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Science News You Won’t Get From The Hometown Cheerleaders

Luke Sharrett/The New York Times - President Obama, with an F-18 “Green Hornet” that will run partly on bio fuel, during his speech on energy security on Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Photo by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times – President Obama, with an F-18 Green Hornet that allegedly will run partly on bio fuel, during his speech on energy security at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Obama supported lifting the moratorium and expanding offshore oil drilling (event photo late March, just weeks before the Gulf oil blowout).  BP is the Pentagon’s largest oil supplier, and that’s oil, not bio-fuels. Obama gave big oil its wish as a concession to secure republican support on a global warming bill. How is that political strategy looking now? How is this cynical photo op propaganda stunt any different than the notorious Bush “Mission Accomplished” flight deck photo? How can it get worse than spinning global warming, while promoting oil drilling and war?

[Update 3 – 7/15/10 – more news you won’t read in NJ papers –  following up on the LA Times story, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson hammered by Senate on EPA policy on Gulf dispersants, see NY Times story – NJ Senator Lautenberg to introduce bill to provide cover for Jackson’s failures to use existing authority under Clean Water Act. All while BP and EPA spin the numbers (watch CNN segment and see!). And read this – it’s all you need to know about “see no evil” EPA science:

Currently, federal agencies are not testing seafood coming out of the Gulf for traces of chemical dispersants.]

Update 2 – if anyone thinks I am just anti-Obama or writing this out of some form of anti-Obama bias, see this July 14, 2008 post – and for an excellent big picture analysis of the Obama administration failures, with which I agree see: Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now]

Update 1: Dan Froomkin at HuffPo also nailed it: Despite Obama’s Lofty Words, Scientific Integrity Rules Are Lagging]

The Los Angeles Times prominently featured an important national story you won’t read in NJ papers – I want to provide a long excerpt before I provide my own NJ based thoughts (based on NJ experience).

The LA Times headline captures the essence of the story:

Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier – A culture of politics trumping science, many say, persists despite the president’s promises. The use of potentially toxic dispersants to fight the gulf oil spill is cited as just one example.

Reporting from Washington –

When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to “guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch.”

Many government scientists hailed the president’s pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.

“We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration,” said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers. […]

The most immediate case of politics allegedly trumping science, some government and outside environmental experts said, was the decision to fight the gulf oil spill with huge quantities of potentially toxic chemical dispersants despite advice to examine the dangers more thoroughly.

Ruch’s organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, also said it had been contacted by an EPA toxicologist who said a request for review of the toxicity of oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico was rebuffed.

EPA analyst Hugh B. Kaufman, a 39-year veteran, said he had heard similar complaints from colleagues. Kaufman believes that his agency “gave the green light to using dispersants without doing the necessary studies.”

A past EPA administrator, William Reilly, said in an interview with CBS last month that he had refused to allow the toxic chemicals’ use after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska because of the potential effect on salmon.

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who has proposed legislation to prohibit dispersant use until further scientific studies are completed, said the EPA “has been entirely irresponsible” in its review of dispersants.

In May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged that dispersants could be problematic, but that “they are used to move us toward the lesser of two difficult environmental outcomes.”

In contrast to the “Many government scientists (who) hailed the president’s pronouncement“, and “expected the Obama Administration to be friendlier“, we are not at all surprised by the fact that the Obama EPA is acting like the Bush EPA when it comes to elevating politics over science.

US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is a political animal that is loyal to her boss, first and foremost.

In NJ, her loyalty went to Governor Corzine, not science and environmental and public health protection. In Washington, it is Obama.

As regular readers of this blog surely know, while current US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was Commissioner of the NJ DEP, we frequently critized her leadership on issues related to a lack of transparency and scientific integrity, particularly her tendency to issue lofty sounding press statements with no follow through and to elevate political interests above science (for examples, see this, and see this and this and this and this and this).

We reiterated those concerns during her EPA confirmation hearings.

But while those issues received attention of the Chair of the US Senate Environment Committee and national press outlets, very few of our criticisms got serious consideration in NJ media circles.

Instead, NJ press and politicians (and some environmentalists) acted as cheerleaders for Jackson, who is now advising Obama on issues of environmental and public health science, while caving to oil interests on the dispersant toxicity issues (and big coal and others).

Those same groups that backed Jackson sat silently on the sidelines when Obama rolled out his pitiful global warming program that was denounced by the world in Copenhagen.

Those same groups now support Obama’s pathetic cap and trade scheme – modeled on NJ’s failed effort crafted by Lisa Jackson –  which was denounced by leading global warming scientist, Jim Hansen.

They said nothing when on March 30 the NY Times reported that Obama announced support for off shore oil drilling, ironically just weeks before the BP Gulf oil blowout.

(Update: Jackson testified to US Senate  (@ page 18) in opposition to offshore drilling off  the Virginia coast when NJ DEP Commissioner – so there are 3 disturbing possibilities: either: 1) her NJDEP testimony was all politics; or 2) she caved and did not oppose Obama’s plan; or 3) Jackson has no influence in Obama energy circles: see note below for testimony, which got wall to wall high profile favorable press coverage in NJ – but where are those reporters now when Jackson’s commitment, influence, and integrity are called into question?).

So now the Gulf dispersant issue (and many others) illustrates why it is important to speak truth to power and tell it like it is – especially when your so called progressive friends and political allies let you down.

So, given Jackson’s NJ history, why is there  surprise that Obama has not delivered on promises and lived up to expectations with respect to science ?

(Note:  For a prescient critical assessment of Obama’s team, see: “Obama’s Used Green Team – Meet the Retreads“.

EPA Administrator Lisa  Jackson is the third “strongest” Obama cabinet science advisor,in a lackluster constellation of recyled Clinton EPA head and now Climate Change Czar Carol Browner, political hack Ken Salazar, and former NJ Girl Heather Zichal, Obama’s Deputy policy advisor on energy and global warming. Jackson is third, behind superbly qualified  Secretary of Energy Chu and NOAA Administrator Lubchenko).

[Update 3 – Lisa Jackson’s January 25, 2007 testimony to US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee  (@ page 18)- opposed off shore drilling based on based on Virginia location and proximity to NJ beaches – did she give Obama the same advice?:

“I would like to reaffirm the State of New Jersey’s opposition to oil and gas lease sales for areas off the coast of New Jersey, as well as the opening of the mid-Atlantic to offshore oil and gas development. Such an action would leave New Jersey vulnerable to damage caused by drilling related incidents in nearby waters. While I can only speak for New Jersey, other northeast states, including Delaware and Connecticut, have been just as vocal in their opposition to drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Our coast helps drive our tourism economy, which brings in more than $36 billion a year. In fact, one out of every six jobs in New Jersey is related to the “Coastal Zone,” making coastal revenues our state’s largest economic sector . $4.5 billion comes from commercial and recreational fishing and aquaculture alone.”

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