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Salazar: Altered drilling report not intentional

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(Source: CNN) (Source: CNN)
Washington, DC -

WASHINGTON, DC (RNN) - The Obama administration said Wednesday that its decision to implement a moratorium on offshore drilling was influenced by factors separate and apart from a report that some say was altered by the White House, and that the report in question was not an intentional attempt to mislead the public.

[Click here for the drilling moratorium controversy timeline]

Story highlights

• Nine Republican congressmen accused the White House of changing a Department of the Interior report on the oil spill to support the controversial off-shore drilling moratorium.

• An internal affairs investigation revealed that the White House did not commit a crime and was not attempting to mislead the public.

• A review by the Inspector General determined that an editing mistake was to blame.

• The White House edits implied that experts supported the drilling ban, when in reality, they had not.

• The Department of the Interior corrected the problem by sending letters to each of the experts and publicly clarifying the mistake.

Nine Republican members of Congress asked the Inspector General's Office to investigate the "30-Day Safety Report to the President," which was used to justify the Obama administration's six-month drilling moratorium. The congressmen complained that the summary to the report implied that a scientific panel had supported the moratorium, which it had not.

[Click here to read a full copy of the 30-day report (PDF)]

According to the investigative report issued by the Inspector General and made public Monday, the White House's edit of the original executive summary draft "led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer-reviewed by experts."

According to a letter obtained by Raycom News Network, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar defended the administration's moratorium decision. The internal letter, dated Nov. 9, 2010, was addressed to Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall.

Salazar said the moratorium was put in place for reasons separate and apart from the summary report made by the Obama administration. Those reasons included the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the availability of spill response resources, and "a number of other factors."

"Your report, which examines the allegations that the Department [of the Interior] misrepresented that the moratorium was reviewed and supported by a group of scientists and industry experts, confirms that there was no wrongdoing or intent to mislead the public," Salazar wrote to Kendall.

Allegations that the Obama administration made changes to the summary report to justify the moratorium were first reported Wednesday by Politico.

A request for comment from the White House has yet to be returned.

Kendra Barkoff, press secretary for the Department of the Interior, said Salazar's letter speaks for itself.

"There was no intent to mislead the public," she said.

Barkoff went on to say that the department adequately remedied the situation by writing letters of apology to the panel of scientists cited in the "30-Day" report, "offering a formal apology and publicly clarifying the nature of the peer review."

Benton Baugh, president of Radoil Inc., who was part of the panel of experts chosen by Salazar to review the spill, confirmed that each member did receive a letter of apology that confirmed they were misquoted.

Both Baugh and panel member Dr. Hans Juvkam-Wold, of Texas A&M University, confirmed that the drilling moratorium was not a part of the report that they reviewed and approved. Both added that they saw no justification for the moratorium and have been against it all along.

One of the letters, which was written by Salazar to Dr. Per Holland of SINTEF Industrial Management, was also obtained by Raycom News Network.

"We did not mean to imply that you also agreed with the decision to impose a moratorium on all new deepwater drilling," he wrote. "We acknowledge that you were not asked to review or comment on the proposed moratorium."

After the "30-Day" report was released on May 27, 2010, two separate requests were made to the Office of the Inspector General to investigate senior Department of the Interior officials and the disputed wording in the report.

The first complaint was filed by Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The second was filed by seven members of the House's Committee on Natural Resources. All nine of the congressmen are Republicans.

According to the Inspector General's report, the language in question that implied the moratorium was supported by the scientific panel occurred during the editing process.

Two edited versions of the summary were prepared and revised. Both versions "placed the peer review language immediately following the moratorium recommendation," according to the Office of Inspector General, causing the implication that the moratorium had been supported by the panel.

According to the report, the language in the executive summary to which the experts objected was this:

"The recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering. Those experts, who volunteered their time and expertise, are identified in Appendix I. The Department also consulted with a wide range of experts form government, academia and industry."


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