Lawmaker Investigates NOAA’s Hiding of Research Data

Published January 14, 2016

After fighting a request for information for several months, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responded to a subpoena from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

In June 2015, NOAA published a study in the journal Science claiming newly recalibrated temperature data adjusted to reflect temperatures taken from ship engine intake valves showed, contrary to all other data sets, there had been no pause in rising temperatures during the current century.

In July, after the study’s release, Smith wrote a letter to NOAA requesting the study’s underlying data and any communications and documents related to the temperature changes. The agency responded only with already publicly available data, saying the e-mails and other communications were confidential work product. Smith reissued his requests for all the originally requested information, and he issued a subpoena for the information on October 13.

Transparency, Not Intimidation

In November, seven organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, sent Smith a letter expressing concerns “a practice of inquests” could “have a chilling effect on the willingness of government scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions.”

David Schnare, general counsel of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, which has sued several federal agencies in recent years to force the disclosure of information they used to formulate regulations, criticized NOAA’s reluctance to comply with Smith’s request.

“NOAA’s refusal to disclose the public records sought by Congress demonstrates two problems in this nation today,” Schnare said. “First, alarmist climate scientists have replaced independent, unbiased science with a policy agenda. Second, this fact would be exposed if their actual informal communications became public.

“The Freedom of Information Act and congressional oversight are intended to allow the public to see how government works,” Schnare said. “The NOAA administrator violates both the spirit and the letter of the law when refusing to open to view public records that document whether or not NOAA scientists are biased in their work.”

NOAA ultimately complied with the subpoena on December 15, providing Congress with a batch of e-mails from the agency’s public affairs and policy staff. In a statement, Smith said he was “encouraged” by NOAA’s release of the documents and communications.

“I am also glad to see that NOAA has committed to produce additional items as they are identified,” Smith’s statement added. “We will carefully review these documents and expect additional productions from NOAA.

Ann N. Purvis, J.D. ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.