Number of permit applications higher than the administration reported to Congress

As the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion nears,  Sen. David Vitter has called out top Obama administration officials  for issuing duplicitous and misleading statements on the correct number offshore drilling permits.

In a letter addressed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, Sen. Vitter (R-La.) details the discrepancy that exists between public statements and official filings.

“Over the last several weeks and months, you have indicated publicly, before Congress, and privately to members, including myself, that there are only a handful of permits awaiting agency action,” Vitter wrote. “It is a mathematical impossibility for your representations to be accurate, as well as the filings of the Department of Justice to be accurate.  It is not possible for there to be ‘too few permits’ awaiting review, and simultaneously ‘too many’ permits being reviewed to make issuing a particular handful problematic.”

The numbers reported on page 11 of a motion the U.S. Justice Department filed last week tell a different story than what the Obama administration recently reported in congressional testimony and transmitted privately to elected officials. The motion seeks to stay federal judge Martin Feldman’s two recent orders directing BOEMRE to issue at least seven permits.

In its filing, the DOJ warns the court’s order could force a potentially harmful “re-prioritization,” since there are 270 shallow water permit applications pending and 52 deepwater permit applications pending.

In Salazar’s recent testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he said the Interior Department had received only 47 shallow water permit applications over the past nine months and that only seven deepwater permit applications were pending. Bromwich told Vitter personally that only six deepwater permits were pending, and he publicly stated that deepwater permits would be limited because “only a handful of completed applications have been received.”

The Interior Department’s comments are particularly troublesome because this element of deception from the Justice Department is misleading the federal circuit court, observes Luke Bolar, Sen. Vitter’s spokesman.

“There is clearly some misrepresentation and deception going on regarding the actual number of offshore permits,” Bolar said. “The Interior Department needs to be careful of their characterization of all permits being equal. Louisianians know that Interior can say all they want about what specific permits mean or don’t mean, but none of that matters until actual drilling permits are issued and Louisianians can get back to work.”

In his letter, Vitter reminded both Salazar and Bromwich that they have an obligation to maintain the integrity of the information they convey in their official capacities.

“Section 515 of the [Information Quality Act] directs federal agencies to maximize ‘the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity’ of information they prepare and disseminate and it requires agencies to adopt and follow implementing guidelines… The basic standard of care is that information must be “accurate, clear, complete, and unbiased.”

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter.