Two more organizations, neither from Alaska, have joined Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in search of more transparency in the Obama administration’s pursuit of Anchorage-based Polar bear expert, Dr. Charles Monnett. Greenpeace US and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Director, Dr. John Holdren, raising their grave concerns that Dr. Monnett is being pursued as part of a political agenda. They have also filed Freedom of Information Act requests in the matter, according to a Friday article by Jill Burke, in the Alaska Dispatch:
The groups are using the Freedom of Information Act to look into whether any correspondence exists between BOEMRE and Shell regarding Monnett or his research.
Some have speculated that Dr. Monnett is being sidelined and hounded as a warning to others to keep their heads down, as the Obama administration prepares the way to open the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to oil development. As if on cue, late Thursday this was announced:
Shell cleared a major hurdle Thursday in its effort to begin a two-year drilling program in the Arctic Ocean next summer, receiving a conditional exploration permit from the federal agency that oversees offshore oil development.
The company said it was buoyed by the morning announcement from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, just as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was preparing for an Alaska visit next week at the invitation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
That congressional tour, which will also include Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, will focus on energy issues.
The exploration permit covers an overall program that would drill four wells over two years in Camden Bay of the Beaufort Sea, due north of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The letter from Greenpeace US and the Center for Biological Diversity raises the spectre of Obama’s deepening and all but relentless pursuit of whistleblowers, which has been quite well documented, particularly by Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, and The New Yorker‘s Jane Meyer. Here’s Greewald, writing about Mayer’s most recent revelations:
Thomas Drake is a hero who deserves a Medal of Freedom Honor. Instead, the Obama administration seeks to imprison him for decades while steadfastly protecting from prosecution — or judicial review of any kind — the high-level government officials who systematically broke the law. Put another way — from the last paragraph of Mayer’s article:
Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. “I think it’s outrageous,” he says. “The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.”
And that’s to say nothing of the full-scale immunity also given thus far to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill, and the mortgage fraudsters who have essentially stolen people’s homes. About what motivates Obama’s conduct — his virtually complete reversal from the campaign pledges — Drake offers this speculation:
“I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”
“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”
On Twitter this morning, The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer said of the New Yorker article: “Jane Mayer does to warrantless wiretapping what she did to torture.” That’s true, but one could just as accurately say that Mayer does to the Obama administration what she did to the Bush administration: expose its most rotted attributes.
Here is the Greenpeace-Center for Biological Diversity letter in its entirety (original is PDF – posted with permission):
August 4, 2011
Mr. Ken Salazar Secretary of the Interior
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dr. John P. Holdren, Director Office of Science & Technology Policy
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Secretary Salazar and Dr. Holdren,
The protection of scientific independence and integrity is crucial to the creation of sound national policy, especially with respect to environmental and natural resource issues. We therefore fully support the spirit and letter of the President’s Executive Order regarding scientific integrity, and it is with this memorandum in mind that we write you about the recent suspension of a senior scientist at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Dr. Charles Monnett.
Dr. Monnett is responsible for undertaking and coordinating a broad slate of research into the distribution of marine mammals, including polar bears. This crucial long-term research has been approved by MMS/BOEMRE in part to produce baseline data against which to judge the potential impacts of proposed oil drilling in the waters off Alaska.
Prior to being placed on administrative leave, Dr. Monnett was subjected to an interrogation by criminal investigators from the Department of Interior Inspector General (IG) relating to his observations of drowned polar bears and the publication of those observations in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Based on the transcript of that interview, it appears that Dr. Monnett is himself being subjected to precisely the type of political interference in his work that the Executive Order and scientific integrity policy are designed to prevent. This apparent interference is originating not only from the IG, which has sent agents with no scientific training to ask decidedly unscientific questions about bizarre allegations relating to the polar bear paper, but also, as it emerged during the interview, from BOEMRE managers themselves.
Following clear evidence of misconduct within the BOEMRE’s predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service, it was hoped that this reorganized agency, under Michael Bromwich’s leadership, would reform its working practices and usher in a new era of respect for independent scientific research. However, this incident indicates that the agency remains rife with problems and seems determined to restrict scientists from engaging in or disseminating research that provides critical information on the potential impacts of oil drilling in a rapidly changing Arctic.
This makes us question whether Mr. Bromwich, the agency and more broadly the Department of Interior are able to uphold the tenets of the Presidential Executive Order on scientific integrity or indeed the DOI’s own Science Integrity Policy, issued in September 2010.
We are gravely concerned by the allegations of political interference with Dr. Monnett’s work and other scientific research at BOEMRE, as well as by the conduct of the investigation against Dr. Monnett. This incident will chill other agency scientists’ ability to carry out and communicate their research.
We thus request your assurance that these critically important issues will receive an immediate, full, and open review by both the Department of Interior and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
We look forward to your response and thoughts on this matter.
Kert Davies Research Director
702 H St NW
Washington D.C. 20001
Kassie Siegel Senior Counsel
Climate Law Institute Director
Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 549
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Although their concerns center on lack of implementation of newly announced reforms in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which is the successor of the totally discredited similar office in the now-defunct Minerals Management Service, and of possible “political interference” in scientific work, those of us familiar with the patterns exhibited previously by Obama can probably read much between the very carefully written lines of the joint request.
Who would have thought that Obama could make the fundamentalist Bush’s war on science seem so pale in comparison?
[Editor’s note: The original photograph, Giordano Bruno (and friend) by Fernando W, was replaced due to copyright restrictions.]