PolitiFact Confirms NewsBusters Claim Donna Brazile Misrepresented Oil Pollution Act

PolitiFact on Tuesday confirmed NewsBusters' claim that Democrat strategist Donna Brazile badly misrepresented the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 while a guest on Sunday's "This Week."

As NewsBusters reported that day, Brazile said in defense of President Obama's pathetic response to the Gulf Coast oil spill, "The administration has been constrained by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which basically gives the responsible party the lead role in trying to not only fix the problem, but contain the problem." 

With quotes from the Act itself, NewsBusters demonstrated that OPA actually INCREASED the President's authority when oil spills impact our nation NOT decreased it.

With the suggestion of ABC's Jake Tapper via Twitter, I sent PolitiFact Sunday's NewsBusters piece. On Tuesday, the fact-checking website declared Brazile's comments "false":

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. The law was designed to better coordinate the government response to a major oil event, and to set penalties for companies responsible. It was approved by Congress and signed into law on Aug. 18, 1990.

In general, it gives the president more authority in an oil event, not less.

"When responding to a spill, many considered the lines of responsibility under the pre-OPA regime to be unclear, with too much reliance on spillers to perform proper cleanup," according to a Congressional Research Service report. "OPA strengthened and clarified the federal government's role in oil spill response and cleanup."

The Oil Pollution Act included amendments to the Clean Water Act to provide the president three options in the wake of an oil event, the Congressional Research Service concluded. The president could: 

  • Perform cleanup immediately ("federalize" the spill);
  • Monitor the response efforts of the spiller;
  • Or, direct the spiller's cleanup activities. 

The Environmental Protection Agency describes the OPA this way:

"The OPA improved the nation's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills by establishing provisions that expand the federal government's ability, and provide the money and resources necessary, to respond to oil spills."

PolitiFact concluded:

[H]er interpretation of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, is incorrect. She said the law "basically gives the responsible party the lead role in trying to not only fix the problem, but contain the problem." In fact, the Oil Pollution Act specifcially [sic] gives the federal government the authority to decide who's in charge of the clean-up -- the polluter or the government. The company, in this case BP, will pay for the clean-up response. But the federal government can give the orders if it chooses. We rate Brazile's statement False. 

For the record, here's what Brazile said Sunday:

ROBERT REICH: But the present spectacle of the Coast Guard asking BP to speed up this clean-up is absurd. I mean, the federal government needs to be in charge. The president needs to be in charge of this. Use BP's expertise. Use BP's resources. But the president must be in charge of all of this. Otherwise, he looks like he's just standing on the sidelines.

DONNA BRAZILE: Well, the administration has been constrained by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which basically gives the responsible party the lead role in trying to not only fix the problem, but contain the problem. That has been the problem from day one. They've waited for BP to come up with the answers, and we know that BP continues to mislead people.

Adding insult to injury, PolitiFact on Tuesday also looked at Brazile's "This Week" claim that 90 percent of the people in Arkansas love Bill Clinton:

That number seemed high, so we e-mailed Brazile to ask her source. She replied that she was referring to the "base of the Democratic party" and not ALL people. It was a Democratic run-off and I did not set it up right (in the comment on the show) because we had so many races to cover."

Brazile said she was sorry about not providing the context and that she thought it was clear she was talking about Democratic primary voters.

But we watched the clip and thought many people might think she meant Clinton was popular with 90 percent of all people in Arkansas.

His nationwide numbers are significantly lower. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll dated from October 2009, 64 percent of those polled said that they had a favorable opinion of Clinton. We would expect him to be more popular in his home state, but we doubt his popularity would be 26 points higher. Brazile acknowledged that would be highly unlikely "in this highly charged partisan environment."

But for Democratic primary voters, Brazile is on solid ground. She sent us a poll from Lake Research Partners of likely Democratic primary voters in Arkansas that found 86 percent had a favorable approval rating of Clinton.

So Brazile was very close with her number, but she left out an important detail -- that it applied only to Democratic primary voters. Still, it was made in the context of a discussion about the Democratic primary. So we find her claim Half True.

So, in one roughly 20-minute segment, Brazile said a complete falsehood and one half-truth.

Makes you wonder why ABC News tolerates such an obviously shameless pol.

But more than this, as was reported Sunday, someone on that panel should have challenged Brazile for her obvious misrepresentation of the OPA.

If programs like "This Week" are going to invite on strategists that are stretching the truth to advance politicians and/or an agenda they support, it is essential that someone is immediately available to correct the falsehood so that it doesn't become a "fact" in many viewers' minds. 

Anything less should be totally unacceptable to all involved in such programs. 

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.