Ross Promises Support for NOAA Weather and Climate Research, Sharing Data With Public
Secretary of Commerce-designate Wilbur Ross has assured Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) that he supports weather and climate research, monitoring and reporting at the Department of Commerce, of which NOAA is a part, and providing that data to the public. Nelson is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which approved Ross’s nomination today.
Nelson wrote to Ross on January 19 asking for a "clear commitment" to supporting climate research and monitoring programs at the Department if Ross is confirmed. Nelson added that "I fully expect that you will safeguard the department’s scientists from political interference, intimidation and censorship."
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Photo credit: Nelson website.
Ross replied on January 23 in the affirmative. Asking to set aside questions of why sea levels and ocean temperatures are changing and instead focus for now on addressing the impacts of those changes, Ross said the Department "should continue to research, monitor and report weather and climate information…. [I]f confirmed, one of my first orders of business will be to begin meeting with NOAA scientists to become fully briefed on what they are seeing with respect to weather and climate information and how the Department can ensure that the National Weather Service continues to make advances to improve the timeliness and accuracy of weather forecasting."
Wilbur Ross at his Senate Commerce Committee Confirmation Hearing, January 18, 2017. Screengrab from committee webcast.
Referencing his testimony at his confirmation hearing last week, Ross continued: "I
believe science should be left to scientists." He also said he wanted to provide the public "with as much factual and accurate data as we have available. It is public tax dollars that support the Department’s scientific research, and barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public. To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter."
Ross’s comments come against a backdrop of growing concern in the scientific community that the Trump Administration is trying to prevent the public release of scientific data from federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service since the inauguration. The Associated Press (AP) reported on what it called the White House "communications clampdown" in the executive branch. The AP quoted a Trump transition official, Doug Ericksen, at EPA as saying it is temporary while they are "trying to get a handle on everything," but there is concern about what it portends. AP went on to quote Jeff Ruch from the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility as saying that what the Trump Administration is doing goes beyond prior presidential transitions and "We’re watching the dark cloud of Mordor extend over federal service," in reference to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
At its annual meeting in Seattle today, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) reaffirmed its official statement on Freedom of Scientific Expression. "Already the new Administration is restraining communications from government agencies related to the weather, water, and climate community. In several instances in recent years, government agencies and elected officials of both major political parties have attempted to obstruct or inhibit the work of scientists," AMS said in a press release, which prompted the Society to adopt its statement originally in 2012 and readopt it today without modification.
Ross’s nomination to be Secretary of Commerce was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee this morning by voice vote, along with that for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation. There was no dissent. The committee also approved the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act (S. 141) as amended, and the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act (H.R. 321), and 16 other bills.
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January 24, 2017 at 09:26PM