Media conservatives have rushed to absurdly compare the Obama administration's response to a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the Bush Administration's botched response after Hurricane Katrina, a hurricane that left more than 1,500 dead. This claim is undermined by a number of facts, including that British Petroleum reportedly led the Obama administration to believe that the spill was much less severe than it actually was.
Spill reportedly more severe than administration officials were led to believe
AP: “BP assured the government the plume was manageable, not catastrophic.” An April 30 Associated Press article reported: “For days, as an oil spill spread in the Gulf of Mexico, BP assured the government the plume was manageable, not catastrophic. Federal authorities were content to let the company handle the mess while keeping an eye on the operation.” The article continued: “But then government scientists realized the leak was five times larger than they had been led to believe, and days of lulling statistics and reassuring words gave way Thursday to an all-hands-on-deck emergency response. Now questions are sure to be raised about a self-policing system that trusted a commercial operator to take care of its own mishap even as it grew into a menace imperiling Gulf Coast nature and livelihoods from Florida to Texas.”
Napolitano: “Today I will be designating that this is a spill of national significance” after “BP alerted us to additional oil leaking.” In an April 29 press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated:
Last night BP alerted us to additional oil leaking from their deep underwater well. They are working, with our support, to estimate the size of this breach.
As has just been mentioned, the President has urged, out of an abundance of caution and mindful of new and evolving information, that we must position resources to continue to confront this spill.
That being said, we have been anticipating and planning, and today I will be designating that this is a spill of national significance. What that means is that we can now draw down assets from across the country, other coastal areas, by way of example; that we will have a centralized communications because the spill is now crossing different regions.
In addition to the command center that we have operational in Robert, Louisiana, we are opening a second command center in Mobile, Alabama, for the BP spill.
As was mentioned, as well as part of our oversight of the response, I will be going to the Gulf Coast tomorrow along with Secretary Salazar and EPA Administrator Jackson to inspect ongoing operations. We remain focused on continued oversight. We'll be taking a very close look at efforts underway, particularly to minimize the environmental risks in the area affected by the leaking oil.
We'll be meeting with other federal, state and local officials deployed to the area and helping in the response effort, and we will be meeting again with BP officials to discuss cleanup planning and operations.
As the President and the law have made clear, BP is the responsible party and is required to fund the costs of the response and cleanup operations. But our visit to Louisiana and the affected areas tomorrow will also help inform our investigation into the causes of this explosion which left 11 workers missing, three critically injured in addition to the ongoing oil spill.
White House immediately dispatched officials, Coast Guard to work on response
April 20: Oil rig explosion. An April 21 ABCNews.com article reported, “An overnight explosion in the Gulf of Mexico rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast, sending spectacular bursts of flame into the sky. The fires were still raging today.”
April 21: Deputy Secretary of Interior, Coast Guard dispatched to region. An April 22 White House statement noted that following a briefing with President Obama, Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, Admiral Thad Allen, United States Coast Guard Commandant, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, “Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes was dispatched to the region yesterday to assist with coordination and response.” The Coast Guard announced that four units were responding to the fire, with addition units en route.
- Search and rescue efforts begin for 11 missing. An initial focus of the response was the search for 11 missing crewmembers. The search was called off April 23.
- CNN.com: “The U.S. Coast Guard launched a major search effort.” An April 22 CNN.com article reported:
The U.S. Coast Guard launched a major search effort Wednesday for 11 people missing after a “catastrophic” explosion aboard an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico engulfed the drilling platform in flames.
Another 17 people were injured -- three critically -- in the blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which occurred about 10 p.m. Tuesday. The rig was about 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry. As of late afternoon Wednesday as many as six firefighting vessels were working to contain the massive fire caused by the explosion.
“It obviously was a catastrophic event,” O'Berry said.
- BP confirms U.S. Coast Guard was “leading the emergency response” In an April 21 press release, BP stated they were “working closely with Transocean and the U.S. Coast Guard, which is leading the emergency response, and had been offering its help - including logistical support.” A separate April 21 press release from drilling contractor Transocean also stated: “Transocean's Emergency and Family Response Teams are working with the U.S. Coast Guard and lease operator BP Exploration & Production, Inc. to care for all rig personnel and search for missing rig personnel.”
April 23: Coast Guard “focused on mitigating the impact of the product currently in the water.” On April 23, the Coast Guard stated:
The Department of the Interior, MMS, and the Coast Guard continue to support the efforts of the responsible parties to secure all potential sources of pollution. Both federal agencies have technical teams in place overseeing the proposals by BP and Transocean to completely secure the well. Until that has occurred and all parties are confident the risk of additional spill is removed, a high readiness posture to respond will remain in place.
Although the oil appears to have stopped flowing from the well head, Coast Guard, BP, Transocean, and MMS remain focused on mitigating the impact of the product currently in the water and preparing for a worst-case scenario in the event the seal does not hold. Visual feed from deployed remotely operated vehicles with sonar capability is continually monitored in an effort to look for any crude oil which still has the potential to emanate from the subsurface well.
“From what we have observed yesterday and through the night, we are not seeing any signs of release of crude in the subsurface area. However we remain in a 'ready to respond' mode and are working in a collaborative effort with BP, the responsible party, to prepare for a worst-case scenario,” Landry stated early Friday morning.
Axelrod: “We had the Coast Guard on the scene almost immediately” and “the deputy secretary of the Interior was on the ground the next day.” White House advisor David Axelrod discussed the administration's response to the oil spill during an appearance on the April 30 edition of ABC's News' Good Morning America. He stated:
DAVID AXELROD: This is always the case in Washington, that whenever something like this happens, the political speculation sets in. But the truth of the matter is that we had the Coast Guard on the scene almost immediately after this accident, the deputy secretary of the Interior was on the ground the next day, and we've been coordinating closely with the local authorities and with the responsible party, BP, down there to deal with this from the very beginning. I'm not concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is that we do every single thing we can to remediate this problem, to stop the flow -- and that's what's going on.
Conservative media compare oil spill to Katrina
Limbaugh: “Obama's Katrina. That damn oil slick just got in the way.” During the April 30 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh referred to the oil spill as “Obama's Katrina,” adding “That damn oil slick just got in the way. So he had to give some lip service to the oil slick. 'It's all British Petroleum's fault. They gotta clean it up. I'm sending some czars down there.'”
The Fox Nation: “Heckuva job? Obama scrambling after week-old spill”
From the Fox Nation, accessed April 30:
Big Bureaucracy: “Such erratic behavior brings a Katrina déjà vu.” An April 29 post on Big Bureaucracy, to which The Fox Nation linked, reported: “Remind you of something: disaster hitting Louisiana, military called too late - observing while the losers in charge cannot give a decent estimate of the problem for days, The White House waffling on the issue being afraid of midterm elections? Such erratic behavior brings a Katrina déjà vu.”
Wash Times: Obama will “be closely scrutinized for parallels” to Katrina response. In an April 29 Washington Times article Joseph Curl reported: “Failure to get control of the relief effort and contain the environmental challenge could pose the same kind of political threat to Mr. Obama's popular standing that the much-criticized handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina did for former President George W. Bush. And unlike Katrina, it is likely the federal government will be the clear lead authority in dealing with the BP spill.” Curl also reported: “Mr. Obama's response to the disaster will be closely scrutinized for parallels to the response of Mr. Bush to the devastating Hurricane Katrina that blew into New Orleans in August 2005, destroying levies and damaging the below-sea-level city.”
Drudge: Response “threatens to turn oil spill into Obama's 'Katrina...'” On April 30, The Drudge Report linked to the Washington Times article with the headline: “Slow federal response threatens to turn oil spill into Obama's 'Katrina'...”
From the Drudge Report:
Boston Herald blog: “Is Gulf Oil Spill Obama's Katrina?” In an April 30 post headlined “Is Gulf Oil Spill Obama's Katrina” the Boston Herald's Lone Republican blog asserted: “If this explosion and delay to react had occurred during President Bush's watch don't you think there would be front page articles hanging Bush out to dry?”
Business Insider: “Hello, The Gulf Oil Spill Is Obama's Katrina.” In an April 29 Business Insider article, Joe Weisenthal asserted: “Will the oil spill in the gulf -- which some suspect could be worse than Exxon Valdez -- be the equivalent for Barack Obama?” Weisenthal continued: “Let's at least acknowledge the obvious opposite, that if we were currently in a Republican administration that had just okayed offshore drilling in America, and they had gone eight days without serious action, they'd be getting absolutely pilloried in the press.” The article was headlined: “Hello, the Gulf Oil Spill is Obama's Katrina.”
Katrina: More than 1,500 dead, hundreds of thousands homeless
Hurricane Katrina resulted in more than 1,500 deaths. A report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee stated that Hurricane Katrina “destroyed an entire region, killing more than 1,500, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, and ravaging one of America's most storied cities.”
Congressional Committees criticized Bush's response to Katrina
Bush admininstration “failed to lead an effective response” to Katrina. The Senate report concluded that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “failed to lead an effective federal response to Hurricane Katrina” and listed specific steps that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff failed to take both before and after the storm. The Special Report stated: “Secretary Chertoff failed to make ready the full range of federal assets pursuant to DHS's responsibilities under the National Response Plan (NRP)” and “failed to appoint a Principal Federal Official (PFO), the official charged with overseeing the federal response under the NRP, until 36 hours after landfall.”
Mike Brown was “hostile” to response plan. The Special Report further concluded that Michael Brown, the Principal Federal Officer that Chertoff eventually chose, “was hostile to the federal government's agreed-upon response plan and therefore was unlikely to perform effectively in accordance with its principles.”
Suffering “continued longer than it should have” due to “the failure of government at all levels.” The Senate report further stated that “the suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm passed did not happen in a vacuum; instead, it continued longer than it should have because of -- and was in some cases exacerbated by -- the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for, and respond aggressively to the storm. These failures were not just conspicuous; they were pervasive.”
Bush admininstration “not prepared to respond” to disaster. The House's Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, which released its final report on February 15, 2006, found that “DHS was not prepared to respond to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina.” The report also found that “critical elements of the National Response Plan,” parts of which Chertoff was responsible for, “were executed late, ineffectively, or not at all,” and that "[f]ederal agencies, including DHS, had varying degrees of unfamiliarity with their roles and responsibilities under the National Response Plan and National Incident Management System." The report concluded:
We are left scratching our heads at the range of inefficiency and ineffectiveness that characterized government behavior right before and after this storm. But passivity did the most damage. The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering, and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are.
Chris Wallace rejects comparison to Katrina
Chris Wallace: “I don't know that that's a fair comparison.” When asked about the media comparing the Obama administration's response to the oil spill to President Bush's response to Katrina, Fox News' Chris Wallace commented: “First of all, the law works is that when there is an oil spill on a rig, the oil company is responsible for the clean up. And having said that I don't know that that's a fair comparison.”