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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of June 29-July 5

This week, readers sent us comments about the Jones Act, Haley Barbour’s blowout claims and Exxon’s penalty payments.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Not Rejections, But Delay

I would like to provide additional information to the article suggesting foreign assistance to the Gulf spill ["Oil Spill, Foreign Help and the Jones Act," June 23]. I believe in your article, an over-reliance on the term "Jones Act" has caused some confusion. There are ways to use foreign help without needing Jones Act waivers, especially if it’s work being done far enough offshore. So the key question is not the Jones Act waivers so much as whether we are embracing the foreign help that we need. Waiving the Jones Act is just one subset of that issue. 

Although there were lesser forms of foreign involvement before this date, I believe the key factoid is that the administration waited until June 16 to allow the most-important foreign vessels to join the effort–namely the OSRV’s (Oil Spill Response Vessels). They do the actual cleanup work. 

Here is a direct quote from the official document: 

“. . . the FOSC [Federal On-Scene Coordinator], in coordination with other federal agencies, determined on June 16, 2010, pursuant to 46 U.S.C. §55113, that there are an insufficient number of specialized oil skimming vessels in the U.S. to keep pace with the unprecedented levels of oil discharges in the Gulf of Mexico. Based upon this determination, foreign specialized skimming vessels may be deployed to response operations.” 

I recommend reading the below article detailing this–and more. It is online at several places, including today at http://dailycaller.com/2010/06/24/how-our-government-slowed-down-the-gulf-cleanup/. 

The foreign OSRV’s each have up to ten times the capacity of the American ships that were being exclusively used for this particular task, yet these more-capable vessels were kept on the sidelines for almost two months. Other foreign ships or material may have been used for other purposes, but it’s the need to bring in the big ships that was being ignored. Technically speaking, Obama still has not waived the Jones Act. The Coast Guard invoked a separate statute (46 U.S.C. §55113) to give the delayed green light, but only after weeks of inaction that let the oil reach shore and create damage that could have been reduced or prevented by bringing in more capacity more quickly.

As Florida Congresswoman Corinne Brown said at a hearing last week: “We are in emergency mode; we need skimmers. …There are small boats, I guess, but we need the big ones. I understand they are available in other countries.”

Austin Weatherford
Legislative Director
Congressman Charles Djou, Representing the 1st District of Hawaii
Washington, D.C.


Reconsidering Barbour’s Blowout Claims

You are right to point that other blowouts, some of them serious, have occurred. However, Barbour’s quote is much more nuanced and slipperier and more deceptive than is pointed out in your factcheck ["Sunday Replay," June 7].

The statement "and this is the first time that anything like the blowout has ever happened" can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Was the 1979 blowout equivalent to this blowout in amount of oil spilled and damage done? What does "anything like" mean? If I were Barbour, when presented with your factcheck, I’d say: "I never said there hadn’t been other spills in the Gulf."

I would have liked FactCheck.org to at least have acknowledged the language nuance in "this is the first time that anything like…"

John Riehl
Laurel, Md.

I enjoy your site and go there often to try and figure out what is true and what is false.

There is a mistake in the "Oil Spill Whoppers" page [July 2], under the "Barbour on Blowouts" section. Mr. Barbour’s quote is related to the last 30 years but your examples of why he is wrong are over 30 years old. The most recent one is from 1979 which is 31 years ago.

Thank you for your site and please keep it up!

Tony Boyda
Fredricksburg, Va.

FactCheck.org responds: Our reader is right that we made a mistake — but it was a typo, not a miscalculation. As we said in the original Sunday Replay items, Barbour’s claim was actually about the last 50 years, not the last 30. We’ve corrected the typo in the "Oil Spill Whoppers" roundup.


Exxon Inflation

Referring to Exxon payments, you say, "But the 9th Circuit Court later held the company responsible for interest fees that significantly increased compensation to victims" ["Sunday Replay," June 21]

This disregards the time value of money. Do you believe a dollar today is worth the same as a promise to pay a dollar in 5 years? The $31,000 paid today is the same amount as $15,000 paid several years ago. Senator Boxer was correct. After all, the delay was due to Exxon.

Len Charlap
Princeton, N.J.

Thanks from Readers

I love the way you structure your short answers. You say yes or no and then give a couple of sentences to explain. I know most things are not that simple, but when they are, it’s nice to see.

Thanks for all you do to get the facts out. I wish all news and political programs had to check with you before they could say anything.

Grateful reader and listener,

Marilynn Wadden
Des Moines, Iowa

I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate FactCheck. It gives me hope that someone out there can discern the truth. Please don’t disappoint those of us who are counting on your service to inform us.

Jerilyn Gilbert
Fairfax, Calif.