Scientists Facing Increasing Government and and Corporate Repression

February 4, 2008
10:04 AM
CONTACT: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Leaked E-Mails May Sink Arctic Offshore Lease Sales

Officials Scramble to Suppress Scientific Dissent over Bush Arctic Oil

WASHINGTON, DC – February 4 – The Interior Department is scrambling to
stanch the flow of internal e-mails from its own scientists that undermine
the legality of its aggressive offshore oil and gas lease sales in federal
Arctic waters, according to correspondence released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The e-mails belie Bush
administration claims that environmental risks were adequately considered
prior to offering tracts in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Bering Seas for

During the past three weeks, PEER has released a series of internal e-mails
from current and former Interior scientists raising troubling questions
about how badly environmental assessments of Arctic offshore oil development
were skewed. These e-mails have fueled two new lawsuits in the past week
that threaten to stymie new lease sales and lend further support to ongoing
litigation against earlier lease sales.

Reflecting mounting concern about the legal consequences of this growing
stream of internal e-mails that contradict official pronouncements, Jeffery
Loman, the Deputy Regional Director for Interior’s Minerals Management
Service, in a January 31, 2008 e-mail to all employees sought to limit
further damage:

“Šwe have been directed to refrain from discussing the PEER press releases
and the e-mail messages with anyone outside our organization including any
representative with the media.”

Interior’s lawyers, meanwhile, are trying to prevent further releases of
incriminating e-mails. In a letter dated January 29, 2008, Associate
Interior Solicitor Arthur Gary wrote to PEER –
“Šwe request that you immediately cease your unauthorized publication of
these privileged communications and return them to MMS [Minerals Management
Service], along with other MMS communications or documents in your
possession that MMS has not authorized for disclosure.”

“PEER has every intention of continuing to publish e-mails and other
internal documents that anguished scientists have provided to us,” stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the e-mails show official
misconduct and, as such, are shielded by the Whistleblower Protection Act,
among other statutes. “There are a lot more disclosures to come; agency
specialists have sent in enough material to start a CD collection.”

Lawsuits brought by Native communities and conservation groups contend that
Interior failed to honestly reflect oil spill dangers and negative effects
on endangered marine life, such as bowhead whales, as well as on polar bear
populations struggling to cope with shrinking sea ice due to global warming.
Another lawsuit filed last week charges that Interior is improperly
withholding thousands of documents, primarily internal e-mails, in violation
of the Freedom of Information Act.

“Congress should hear directly from the agency scientists whose work was
altered or axed altogether,” Ruch added, noting that much of the
congressional attention has been focused on the delays in the decision
whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. “The Bush
administration oil rush in the Arctic is lubricated by systematic scientific


See the MMS gag order against discussing e-mails
Read the Interior cease and desist letter to PEER
Look at MMS suppression of polar bear concerns
Examine how MMS squelched analysis of invasive species risks

View an example of e-mails Interior is withholding
Learn about the latest lawsuit to halt upcoming Chukchi lease sale
Find out about latest Freedom of Information Act suit vs. Interior


David Chambers wrote:

Conservatives’ decision to censor scientists will increase public distrust
Vancouver Sun
Saturday, February 02, 2008

Environment Minister John Baird belongs to a government that treats science
with disdain, from climate change to criminal justice.

CREDIT: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun, Files

Environment Minister John Baird belongs to a government that treats science
with disdain, from climate change to criminal justice.

Environment Canada’s muzzling of its scientists might be shocking, but it’s
hardly surprising.

The new policy, which apparently went into force in recent weeks, is
designed to control the media message and ensure that Environment Minister
John Baird faces no “surprises” when he reads or listens to the news.

The policy dictates that researchers refer all media queries to Ottawa. The
media office then directs reporters to submit their questions in writing,
and then researchers are to send written responses to senior management for
approval. If the researcher is cleared to do an interview, he or she is
asked to stick to “approved lines,” though it’s not clear what that
enigmatic phrase means.

Needless to say, the new policy has infuriated scientists and sent a chill
through Environment Canada. After all, while Gregory Jack, acting director
of Environment Canada’s ministerial and executive services, insisted “there
is no change in the access in terms of scientists being able to talk,” it’s
clear that scientists are being severely hobbled in their ability to speak

This is in stark contrast to Environment Canada’s treatment under previous
governments, when it was one of the most open and accessible federal
departments. That openness and accessibility, however, is seen by
Environment Canada’s executive committee as a problem that needs to be

While shocking, the latest directive isn’t surprising since, in an effort to
control their message, the Conservatives have systematically limited
communications with the media, and by extension, with the public.

Further, the Conservatives have by and large treated science with disdain
throughout their tenure, as they have routinely ignored or dismissed the
best available scientific evidence on everything from criminal justice to
illicit drugs to the environment.

The most recent evidence of the Conservatives disinterest in science came
just recently, when the government eliminated the position of national
science adviser. The adviser, who was originally situated in the Privy
Council Office, and therefore gave advice directly to the prime minister,
was moved to Industry Canada when the Conservatives took power, and now the
position has been eliminated entirely.

It appears that the Conservatives refuse to recognize any distinction
between policy based on science and science itself. Rather than using
scientific evidence to inform policy, the Conservatives seem more interested
in ensuring that the science conforms to their policy.

This is a disastrous approach, particularly on an issue in which many
Environment Canada scientists can claim some expertise — climate change. At
the very least, this new policy guarantees that there will be a certain
level of public distrust about what Environment Canada scientists say about
climate change — or anything else for that matter.

At worst, the new policy suggests that the Conservatives believe that there
really is no distinction between science and policy, and that truth is not
just a casualty of war, but of politics.
“.. last fall the B.C. government told scientists not
to identity habitat critical to endangered species.”

Victoria Times Colonist (British Columbia, Canada)
Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Take the muzzles off scientists

That the federal government would consider
muzzling scientists underscores how little
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives understand
about science. For science to thrive, it requires
freedom. Scientists should be free to share their
knowledge without having to worry about whether
or not the science fits a preconceived political

The federal government’s insistence that
scientists now consult with communications staff
before conducting interviews, or even confirming
basic science facts, is an insult to them and
their professions. It requires the experts to
defer to the spin doctors.

Scientists typically tend to be careful and
conservative in what they say. But sometimes what
they discover is unpleasant or inconvenient.
That’s all the more reason to be upfront rather
than to massage a difficult message in order to
suit a government’s objectives.

Establishing a labyrinthine bureaucratic
structure to ensure “approved lines” means
answers to pressing questions will be delayed and
even lost in the maze. Such a policy is the kind
one might expect from the Bush administration in
the U.S., where, in 2006, a political appointee
attempted to censor warnings from climate
scientists about global warming.

Closer to home, last fall the B.C. government
told scientists not to identity habitat critical
to endangered species. After environmental groups
learned of this directive, the government argued
that such a decision shouldn’t be based on
science alone, but must also consider
socioeconomic impacts.

Fair enough. However that should be done by
weighing all the evidence and not asking that
parts of it be fudged to fit a political agenda.

Science needs to be faithful to the facts and
free of political meddling. If that makes
political decisions more difficult, too bad.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008


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