The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was suppose to emerge Wednesday with a road map toward a brighter day. Instead, we’ll be getting a preliminary report pending further public input.
Following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama created a task force and charged it with developing a restoration strategy for the Gulf Coast. The team — headed by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — was to present its report to the President one year from the day of his directive, or Oct. 5, 2011.
That date has apparently been extended. After some searching — venturing well beyond the obvious governmental sources — a legal industry news service on the Web was found to have an entry from the Washington D.C.-based legal and lobbying firm of Patton Boggs. The entry reported that the task force had adopted a new schedule, extending the due date by three weeks in order to allow for additional public comment; the report, it stated, will now be released sometime in November or December.
Verifying this bit of information with the EPA proved a bit difficult. And, maybe, a little weird.
No one at the Agency’s press office seemed to know who might be able to answer questions about the report’s release. A press officer explored various avenues.
“Getting warm, here,” he would check back in periodically. “Hmmm. Getting cold.”
Finally, a person was located who would be able to speak about the delay.
“Ok, I’ve got a name and a number for you,” the guy said, pointing the way to the EPA Assistant Press Secretary Alisha Johnson.
Higher up the press office’s food chain, Johnson was interested where such information had been gleaned. She said there had been no such statement released from the agency.
“I can tell you we have an announcement coming out on Wednesday,” Johnson said.
The EPA press official refused to comment on the matter further. She would neither confirm or deny that the due date would be extended by three weeks.
A short time later, when informed a story would be written based on her statement, along with the details from the legal news service, Johnson provided a statement that she said had been sent out to subscribers of the task force’s email service. The statement confirmed the extension.
Johnson said that the statement had been sent out in mid-August. The Patton Boggs entry reported that the new schedule had been introduced during the task force’s Aug. 30 meeting in Biloxi, Miss. The same statement is also posted on the opening page of the EPA’s website for the task force, though earlier searches of the site had proven fruitless.
When asked why she had refused to comment on a matter that had apparently been public knowledge since August, Johnson said that she had been confused. She said that because the EPA had “a lot going on” in Florida, she had not understood that the questions pertained to the task force’s report date.
But she understood enough to be concerned where such information was learned? And she knew enough to say there would be an announcement made on the report’s original due date? And she knew enough to decline to comment further when asked specifics about the extension?
“I’m not the expert on this,” Johnson said. “I’m the press person, obviously.”