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By Alex Holt June 29, 2010

Scalise blames Obama for 'inaction' on berm plan to contain oil spill

Many Republicans say President Barack Obama has moved too slowly in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., criticized the president's Oval Office speech and cited slow action in building sand barriers to absorb the oil.

"Tonight the president actually said that he won't tolerate inaction," Scalise said on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News shortly after the speech on June 15, 2010. "Yet it was his inaction that caused over three weeks to go by before he even approved the governor's plan to protect our marsh and put up those sand barriers which covered 25 percent of the plan that was submitted by our local leaders."

Scalise is referring to a plan proposed May 11 by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal that the federal government build barrier islands of sand to intercept oil before it hit Louisiana's wetlands. The plan is based on the idea that oil is easier to get out of sand than wetlands, which are an important part of the state's ecosystems. (Read our previous ruling on Jindal's plan here.)

We were interested in determining how long it took Obama to implement Gov. Jindal's plan.

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Now some people have questioned whether Jindal's entire plan could be completed quickly enough to capture the oil before it reached the wetlands.

Some scientists have also warned that in the long term, the berms could do more harm than good. They could change coastal currents and further degrade the already extremely fragile coastline. Some suggested that construction of the berms could damage oil and gas pipelines and  that dredging the sand to build the berms could cause a change in water salinity that could harm  the fish population.

Although Scalise refers to "inaction," records indicate that federal agencies have been assessing the proposal since May 11.

The Corps of Engineers says it received the plan at 11 p.m. on May 11. The Corps solicited interagency comments in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and provided those comments to the state of Louisiana. On May 14, the state resubmitted a revised plan based off of the comments. The Corps then solicited a second round of comments and began to discuss technical analyses with the state. On May 21 and May 24, the state submitted additional information, and on May 27, the plan was approved to build berms in six of the 24 proposed sections. On June 2nd, the White House approved of the idea that BP would pay and on June 3rd, BP agreed to pay the estimated $360 million cost. That certainly seems like quite a bit of action to us.

According to Scalise spokesman Stephen Bell, Scalise was counting from May 11 to June 3, when BP agreed to pay, because the governor never planned to pay for the berms at the cost of the Louisiana taxpayers. According to that math, the time would be just over three weeks.

But we think it's important to note that the Army Corps of Engineers approved Jindal's plan on May 27, two weeks and two days after he proposed it. And then it was June 3 when BP agreed to cover the cost.

Scalise said President Obama's "inaction ... caused over three weeks to go by before he even approved the governor's plan." It's the word "inaction" here that is most troubling because it suggests nothing was going on when in fact something was happening to address Jindal's idea. Per protocol, the Corps solicited interagency comments, shared them with the state of Louisiana, received a revised plan, solicited comments on it and then approved the plan May 27. Within a week, the money was in place. The omission of this context leads us to rule Scalise's statement Half True.

Our Sources

Steve Scalise, "Hannity," FOX News, June 15, 2010.

Interview with Stephen Bell, press secretary for Congressman Steve Scalise, June 17, 2010.

Office of Gov. Bobby Jindal, "Governor Jindal and Terrebonne Officials Fly Over Coastal Protection Efforts," May 11, 2010

Pete Spotts, "Louisiana's berm plan bold, but full of uncertainty," Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2010

Mark Schleifstein, "Sand Berm approved as an oil barrier," The Times Picayune, May 28, 2010

AP, "BP agrees to pay for sand berms, cuts off pipe irregularly,", June 3, 2010

Army Corps of Engineers, "Corps decision on state's emergency permit request," May 27, 2010

Jeffrey Ball, "Berms Getting Built, but Doubts Persist," Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2010

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Scalise blames Obama for 'inaction' on berm plan to contain oil spill

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