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Oil spill probe: Edits by White House rile scientists

WASHINGTON - The oil spill that damaged the Gulf of Mexico's reefs and wetlands is also threatening to stain the Obama administration's reputation for relying on science to guide policy.

Academics, environmentalists and federal investigators have accused the administration since the April spill of downplaying scientific findings, misrepresenting data and most recently misconstruing the opinions of experts it solicited.

Meanwhile, the owner of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, Transocean Ltd., is renewing its argument that federal investigators are in danger of allowing the blowout preventer, a key piece of evidence, to corrode as it awaits forensic analysis. Testing had not begun as of last week, the company says, some two months after it was raised from the sea floor.

The blowout preventer could be a key piece of evidence in lawsuits filed by victims, survivors and others. Transocean was responsible for maintaining it while it was being used on BP's well. Investigators agreed to flush the control pods with fluid on Sept. 27 to prevent corrosion. But a Transocean lawyer wrote in his Nov. 3 letter that there have been no further preservation steps on the blowout preventer since then.

The latest complaint from scientists comes in a report by the Interior Department's inspector general, which concluded that the White House edited a drilling safety report in a way that made it falsely appear that scientists and experts supported the administration's six-month ban on new deep-water drilling. The AP obtained the report yesterday.

The inspector general said the editing changes by the White House resulted "in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer-reviewed." But it hadn't been.

Outside scientists were asked only to review new safety measures for offshore drilling.

"There are really only a few people that know what they are talking about" on offshore drilling," said Ford Brett, managing director of Petroskills, a Tulsa, Okla.-based petroleum training organization. "The people who make this policy do not."

Last month, staff for the presidential oil spill commission said that the White House's budget office delayed publication of a scientific report that forecast how much oil could reach the Gulf's shores.

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