We need a strong Obama appointee to head NOAA, a key agency on climate change

Facebooktwittergoogle_plus

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should play a significant role in the Obama administration as a key agency on climate change and oceans – with freedom of scientific expression ensured.  We told Andrew Freedman of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog (“Where Will Obama Lead NOAA?”): “We can expect to see a much-improved situation with climate change communication now that we will have an administration that is not intent on avoiding the problem. But in undoing the damage, they need to get the agency really actively engaged with society in dealing with the impacts of climate change.”

From Freedman’s December 8 post:

Given the incoming Obama administration’s emphasis on tackling global climate change and restoring scientific integrity in policymaking, federal science agencies that had taken a back seat under President Bush, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are likely to become more prominently involved in the decision making process in the near future. Similar to the EPA and Interior Department, NOAA sits at the intersection of science and policy when it comes to numerous environmental issues—particularly climate change and oceans management.

Following a turbulent eight years under President Bush, which featured allegations of political interference (PDF) with NOAA scientific research, as well as cost overruns on a major environmental satellite program…The question is whether the agency will come out a winner next season, or if it will struggle under new management. Much of that depends on who is selected to run the agency.

One of the thorniest issues facing NOAA in the near future is how to restore the morale of the agency’s scientific staff, following a series of high-profile incidents of politically motivated scientific censorship during the Bush administration….

“There’s definitely a very strong sense within NOAA now that they were muzzled and they couldn’t say what they wanted to say,” [former NOAA Administrator James] Baker said of NOAA’s scientific staff, adding that the next NOAA administrator needs to clearly state a commitment to free expression.

“You don’t want to have any sense that there is an administration line on what the science is,” he said. “That’s really dangerous, it can cut both ways.”

Rick Piltz, director of the nonprofit group Climate Science Watch, said in an email conversation, “I think we can expect to see a much-improved situation with climate change communication now that we will have an administration that is not intent on avoiding the problem. But in undoing the damage, they need to get the agency really actively engaged with society in dealing with the impacts of climate change.”

See our earlier posts:

September 26, 2008: Notes on Conrad Lautenbacher’s troubled legacy on science and politics at NOAA (Part 2)

September 24, 2008: NOAA head Lautenbacher resigns, leaving troubled legacy on science and politics (Part 1)

Also see the reports:

Union of Concerned Scientists and Government Accountability Project, Atmosphere of Pressure:  Political Interference in Federal Climate Science, January 2007

Government Accountability Project, Redacting the Science of Climate Change: An Investigative and Synthesis Report, March 2007

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Political Interference With Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration, December 2007

Union of Concerned Scientists, NOAA Fisheries Service Scientist Survey, 2005

 

This entry was posted in Obama Administration. Bookmark the permalink.