Greenwire report: Sen. Inhofe inquiry into research group funding sparks scientists’ concerns


Greenwire (subscription), a daily newsletter on energy and environmental policy, reported in its #1 article on March 16: “An inquiry by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe [R-OK] into the governance and financing of a leading climate research institution has generated waves of concern and speculation among scientists who see it potentially opening a new front in the battle over the flow of climate information to decisionmakers and the public.” The article draws on the March 11 entry on this Weblog and includes comments by CSW director Rick Piltz.

The article, by Andrew Freedman, “Sen. Inhofe inquiry into research group funding sparks scientists’ concerns,” Greenwire, March 16, 2006 (copyright 2006 Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC), says: 

Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior Republican senator and arguably the Senate’s most outspoken critic of mainstream climate science, sent a letter last month to the director of the National Science Foundation requesting information on funding and management of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and its managing body, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The article quotes Inhofe spokesman Bill Holbrooke as saying the senator’s request is a matter of “simple, basic oversight. We’re looking into the contract,” Holbrooke said. “We want to understand more about it.”

(Prior to going to work for Sen. Inhofe, Bill Holbrooke worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Chairman James Connaughton and Chief of Staff Phil Cooney.)

The article reports our concerns about the Senator’s inquisition:

But Rick Piltz, the director of Climate Science Watch, sees something more threatening in the Inhofe letter. Piltz himself was a UCAR employee working on detail to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program until he resigned his post last year after growing frustrated with what he saw as the intrusion of politics into science.

Criticizing Inhofe for deriding global warming as the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” Piltz said: “I have to suspect that if he’s intervening in this relationship, it’s from this political perspective.”

The article notes:

NCAR differs from government laboratories in the freedom it affords its employees to share their research with the public.

For example, NCAR researchers have been widely quoted recently stating that there is a link between climate change and a trend of increased hurricane intensity in the Atlantic Basin. By contrast, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration complained that the Bush administration muzzled similar findings by their agency.

“The people at NCAR are scientists who speak freely. … They come out with stuff that Inhofe doesn’t like,” Piltz said.

The article also notes our concern that Inhofe’s interest in personnel matters, including salary information, for NCAR/UCAR employees on detail elsewhere suggest that he may have an interest in influencing the staffing of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Office, which supports coordination and communication of federal climate change research.

In response, Christopher Horner at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) defends the Senator against the critics of his inquest.  The article quotes Horner as saying: “The outrage that we see from these people tells us that he’s onto something.”

(Horner is a lawyer who filed the briefs in CEI-led lawsuits aimed first at suppressing a major scientific study, the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, then—unsuccessfully—at removing the National Assessment documents from a government Web site after publication.  Sen. Inhofe was a party to the lawsuit to suppress the National Assessment. The National Assessment has been praised by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences as a significant and credible report.)

This is a story that seems to have several possible angles. Readers, especially at NSF, NCAR/UCAR, CCSP, and Senate offices:  Can you provide additional information and insight (at whatever level of confidentiality you request)?  Send an e-mail to [redacted]



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