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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

OPINION: Speaking out is a dangerous thing.

Polar Bear (Sow And Cub), Arctic National Wild...Image via Wikipedia
Many of you are following the plight of one of the nation’s top Arctic researchers who has been suspended without notice or charges.  That scientist, Dr. Charles Monnett, had first reported mortality to polar bears linked to retreating sea ice.  His 2006 peer-reviewed journal article galvanized public understanding about the effects of climate change in the Arctic.   

For reasons that have not been explained, Dr. Monnett has been the subject of a ham-handed Interior Inspector General (IG) investigation for the past several months.  When Dr. Monnett was abruptly suspended on July 18th, he was officially informed it was due to “integrity” and “objectivity” issues raised by the IG.  He was then ordered to go home, refrain from communicating with any colleagues and to stay out of government buildings under pain of discipline until such undetermined time as the IG completes its “final results.”   

PEER filed a complaint on his behalf, contending that new Interior rules for protecting scientists from interference were being violated – as Dr. Monnett’s work has been interrupted with prejudice.  The
resulting media uproar forced Interior to backpedal.   

Last Friday, Micheal Bromwich, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM, the portion of the former MMS where Dr. Monnett works) issued a statement, denying that scientific integrity or the polar bear article was the reason for the suspension.  Instead, Bromwich said it was a wholly “separate subject” and then castigated PEER for acting “to criticize us without any knowledge of the facts that led to the decision -- and without asking about them.” 
Of course, BOEM refuses to reveal the reason.  Moreover, Bromwich did what he accused PEER of – he acted without informing Dr. Monnett what this new subject was or asking for his side of the story.  He callously ended a career without a second thought.  Bromwich’s actions reflect the sort of bureaucratic corruption and abuse of authority which we are dismayed to see is rife throughout the Obama administration.  For example – 

  • The Interior IG, one of the more political investigative shops, deep-sixed its own investigation into deep-seated Park Service law enforcement malfeasance.  It took a two-year legal battle by PEER to unearth a report that should have been published three years ago and is now available only on our website; 
  • EPA is preventing its scientists from conducting risk assessments on commercial uses of toxic coal ash and other combustion wastes that the agency endorses without scientific basis.  EPA has told its own IG it has no intention of even beginning to look at the public health or environmental consequences of dumping 60 million tons a year of coal ash into products ranging from lipstick to cattle feeders;  and 
After the 2008 elections, PEER was prepared to help bring about the Change We Need.  We have been disappointed and horrified at what has ensued.  In agency after agency on issue after issue, employees report the same mix of venality and ineptitude recounted above.   

Sincerely,

Jeff Ruch
Executive Director



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