The White House altered a Department of Interior (DOI) report last May to suggest that experts peer reviewed and supported the administration’s decision to impose a blanket moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) following the well blowout that sank the Deepwater Horizon rig off the southern Louisiana coastline, according to a report released Tuesday by DOI’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG reached this conclusion after reviewing a series of e-mails between Steve Black, counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and the staff of White House energy czar Carol Browner on May 26 and May 27 addressing an executive summary, which contained peer-reviewed recommendations for improvements in practices and standards for deepwater drilling. In the report, Salazar also recommended that the Obama administration impose a blanket moratorium on deepwater drilling in the GOM, which was lifted in mid-October (see Daily GPI, Oct. 13).

“A review of the e-mails that Black sent to the White House at 11:38 p.m. on May 26 reflects that in DOI’s draft of the executive summary the moratorium was discussed on the first page of the executive summary, while the peer review language [by experts] was on the second page of the executive summary, immediately following a summary list of the safety recommendations…which had been peer reviewed,” according to the OIG report, which Acting IG Mary L. Kendall sent to Salazar earlier this week.

Early May 27, “Browner’s staff sent an e-mail back to Black that contained two edited versions of the executive summary. Both versions sent by [Browner’s] staff contained significant edits to DOI’s draft executive summary,” the OIG report said.

“Both versions…revised and reordered the executive summary, placing the peer review language immediately following the moratorium recommendation causing the distinctions between the secretary’s moratorium recommendation — which had not been peer reviewed — and the recommendations contained in the 30-day report — which had been peer reviewed — to become effectively lost,” the report said.

Seven experts from the National Academy of Engineering, a subdivision of National Academy of Sciences, as well as experts from industry and academia, peer reviewed the recommendations in the report to the Obama administration on offshore drilling. A prominent engineer and others who reviewed the recommendations reacted immediately to the report’s implication that they signed off on the blanket moratorium.

“All DOI officials interviewed stated that it was never their intention to imply the moratorium was peer reviewed by the experts, but rather rushed editing of the executive summary by DOI and the White House resulted in this implication. After reviewing different drafts of the executive summary that were exchanged between the DOI and the White House prior to its final issuance, the OIG [has] determined that the White House edit of the original DOI draft executive summary led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed by the experts,” the report said.

The OIG investigation was requested by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), and seven members of the House Natural Resources Committee (see Daily GPI, July 23).

“The Inspector General’s report confirms that the decision to impose a drilling moratorium was based on data that was manipulated by the administration,” Scalise said. “The administration needs to come clean and explain to the American people why they manipulated the peer-reviewed data to reach a political conclusion that is still keeping thousands of people from working safety in the energy industry,” he said.

“This report reveals exactly what I suspected all along — Obama administration officials appear to have deliberately disregarded the Information Quality Act to push their destructive moratorium that has crushed job growth along the Gulf Coast. I initially requested the investigation on June 16 because I wanted to make sure that the federal government was basing policy decisions that would directly impact so many Louisianians on science — not politics. Unfortunately this report reveals the contrary,” Vitter noted.

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