Interior Dept.to be Sued Over Oil Spill Emails

CBS News has learned that the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) will file a federal lawsuit against the Interior Department tomorrow demanding the release of documents and e-mails regarding the  size of the BP oil spill. PEER alleges that political appointees sought to downplay the size of the spill.

 "They lowballed the numbers to minimize the public alarm about the extent and size of this huge disaster," said Jeff Ruch, PEER Executive Director.  "We are confident these documents will justify our concerns and we invite the Interior Department to dispel our concerns by releasing all the documents"

PEER has been requesting these documents since early July.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Read the PEER Press Release Below

Lawsuit to Unravel Varying BP Spill Estimates

Paper Trail Explaining Starkly Different Leak Rate Numbers Yet to Surface

Washington, DC -- The Obama administration is hiding the memos and e-mails behind official scientific assessments of the size of the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Estimates of the leak rate inexplicably rose five-fold amid reports that political appointees sought to low ball the size of the spill.

The controversy concerns the National Incident Command's Flow Rate Technical Group which, among other tasks, was charged with developing an independent estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP's leaking oil well. Marcia McNutt, Director of the Interior Department's U.S. Geological Survey, chaired the Technical Group. On May 27 2010, Dr. McNutt issued a public statement that the "Best Estimate" range of flow rates was between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day (bpd) but she -

* Omitted the fact that these were minimum estimates (deleting phrases such as "at least" and "range of lower bounds") and did not mention completed estimates that were much higher. Significantly, the Technical Group was supposed to look at worst-case, catastrophic scenarios to help gauge needed resources and tactics for spill response;

* Withheld the actual technical report and instead released only a summary that she wrote; and

* Directed that none of the Technical Group documents was subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and that group members should not disclose any materials.

Ultimately, the oil leak rate has been measured in the new well cap system to be 55,000 bpd, a daily flow rate that had diminished over time, starting at about 62,000 bpd. These numbers were much higher than the previously released figures - a disparity that has yet to be explained.

On July 6, 2010, PEER requested the release of all of the Technical Group papers, including directives from Dr. McNutt and other Interior political appointees but virtually none of these materials has been released. Today, PEER filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. claiming that hundreds of pages of reports and communications are being withheld in violation of FOIA.

"This case will produce Exhibit A in the debate about whether science is still being manipulated under the current administration," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that promised scientific integrity safeguards which would have prevented or exposed political interference in this arena are still not in place more than a year after the deadline imposed by President Obama. "Our concern is that the administration took, and is still taking, steps to minimize public perception about the extent and severity of the BP spill - a concern that could be dispelled by releasing these documents."

A similar controversy is brewing about the "Oil Budget" released by the administration which estimates that 75% of the BP oil spill has dissipated or been removed but the scientific methodology, let alone the actual studies, behind this conclusion has yet to be disclosed.


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