Friday, February 13, 2009

An oil industry bias

I've been rather busy the last week due to the upcoming John Trigg Ester Library Lallapalooza and the Perennial Problem of Paper Production (which ALWAYS takes far longer than I anticipate), so I haven't been posting here of late, despite the fascinating news stories abounding. So I'll try to make up for that in the next couple of days.

First up: after all the brouhaha with certain saurian Republican legislators chastising UA President Hamilton for the supposed 'anti-development attitude' of University of Alaska students who dared to come down to Juneau and (gasp!) express doubts about particular mining projects, I received an interesting press release from PEER about Professor Rick Steiner, who is getting his NOAA grant yanked by Sea Grant.

It seems that last year, Dr. Steiner, a marine scientist, protested a pro-oil industry bias that he saw in Sea Grant programs.


Here's an excerpt from the release:
Professor Rick Steiner, a noted marine scientist and environmentalist with the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program, incurred the wrath of NOAA officials by protesting a pro-industry slant in Sea Grant programs to promote oil drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Shortly after Steiner’s March 18, 2008 letter [PDF] and press conference, his dean was approached by National Sea Grant Deputy Director Jim Murray, who according to an e-mail from Dean Denis Wiesenburg recounting the conversation, indicated that NOAA had “an issue with Rick Steiner” because “he was acting as an advocate and asked if he was being paid with Sea Grant funds”, adding that “one agent can cause problems nationally”.

As the basis for urging that Prof. Steiner “not be paid with Sea Grant funds” NOAA’s Murray cited manual guidance that Sea Grant extension agents should strive to be “neutral brokers of information”. Ironically, Prof. Steiner, a tenured professor, had been publicly protesting that the Sea Grant program was violating its own principle of neutrality by stacking a program to favor offshore oil development and improperly minimizing potential resource damage to Bristol Bay fisheries and marine life.

“Under Bush, NOAA programs, including Sea Grant, were ordered to lubricate oil company initiatives,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization is urging incoming NOAA Administrator-designate Jane Lubchenco to strengthen the Sea Grant role in ocean protection. “The Sea Grant program needs a thorough housecleaning starting with its leadership.”

As a result of the NOAA threat, Dean Wiesenburg recommended in December that Professor Steiner’s Sea Grant funding be terminated because Steiner “has chosen to be a maverick and work independently,” noting that “Mr. Steiner has devoted some of his energy during the review period to publicly attacking the Alaska Sea Grant program,” and that “Steiner regularly takes strong public positions on issues of public debate.” Significantly, the dean did not mention the quality or quantity of Prof. Steiner’s award-winning marine conservation extension efforts.

“The present crisis in our nation’s marine and coastal ecosystems requires a clear and urgent national response,” said Prof. Steiner. “But instead of responding to the ocean crisis, this new de facto gag order from NOAA Sea Grant will have a chilling effect on scientists who want to advocate for greater ocean protection and restoration.”

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