White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the fluctuating tone on the impacts of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown -- between admitting and denying a supply shortage -- by saying the administration used appropriate language in each moment.
"On Monday afternoon we said at this moment there is not a supply shortage that was accurate at this moment," she told reporters. "We also said we were continuing to monitor the situation very closely, what the impact will be … we had to anticipate there would be a range of impacts."
On Monday afternoon President Biden’s homeland security adviser, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, told reporters "Right now there is not a supply shortage."
Then Monday evening Psaki said the White House was monitoring supply shortages.
"We are monitoring supply shortages in parts of the Southeast and are evaluating every action the Administration can take to mitigate the impact as much as possible," Psaki said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm denied that there were shortages, adding instead that there was a "supply crunch."
"It's not that we have a gasoline shortage. It's that we have this supply crunch and that things will be back to normal soon and that we're asking people not to hoard and know that we are all over this."
"We know that we have gasoline. We just have to get it to the right places," the secretary continued.
But both EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg deemed the lack of gasoline at the pump in many southern states a "shortage."
Colonial Pipeline, which transports 45% of fuel used on the East Coast, shut down its entire operation Friday after a ransomware attack, in which hackers typically lock up computer systems by encrypting data, paralyzing networks, and demand a large ransom to unscramble it. The FBI has assigned blame to criminal group DarkSide, whose group members are Russian speakers. Russia has denied involvement in the attack.
Psaki punted on a question of whether Colonial Pipeline paid the ransom. "The guidance from the FBI is not to do that," Psaki said while directing questions toward the company.
"I will say that there is advice and guidance we get from the federal government because we know this incentivizes additional attacks," she said. "That is guidance that's given from the FBI. But this is a private sector company, and I would refer you to them for any questions about what they have or have not paid."
Gas prices spiked above $3 per gallon this week, and some gas stations in states like Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee were fresh out of supply. Others saw lines dozens of cars deep and drivers loading up other vessels to store more gasoline. Buttigieg issued a stern warning to consumers not to store gas in anything but approved containers. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission put out a statement on Twitter telling Americans not to store gasoline in plastic bags.
The EPA has issued a fuel waiver temporarily lifting environmental protection standards and the Department of Transportation waived hours requirements, allowing truckers to transport fuel to affected states beyond the 11-hour daily limits.
Granholm on Tuesday said Colonial Pipeline planned to begin a full reopening of its pipeline Wednesday evening and could be almost fully operational by the end of the week.