NOAA Strips Scientist Of Funding Because Of His Marine Conservation ‘Advocacy’

steiner.jpgDespite the fact that Bush has left office, the federal government’s energy exploration apparatus is still living up to its Bush-era pro-industry reputation. Indeed, new documents released by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today show that Professor Rick Steiner, a marine scientist at the University of Alaska, is set to lose his federal funding for opposing the Bush administration’s industry-friendly policies.

In March 2008, Steiner wrote an open letter calling attention to what he said was a “pro-business slant” in the supposedly neutral North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Initiative, an oil exploration public relations program funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sea Grant.

As Steiner explained, the Energy-Fisheries initiative is “primarily concerned with fostering a dialogue on an offshore oil and gas lease sale scheduled by the Minerals Management Service.” Steiner, whose salary was also partially paid by Sea Grant, said that the Initiative was biased toward energy industry interests and “based on the premise that offshore oil and gas development will occur”:

UAF and Sea Grant, however, have failed to take the steps necessary for creating a neutral, objective, and participatory dialogue on the issue of offshore oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay. The North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Initiative is highly biased towards the interests most supportive of offshore oil and gas development in the region and has minimized the opportunity for participation by others, especially by those who live in the Bristol Bay region.

Ironically, NOAA then pushed to strip Steiner of his funding for not acting as a “neutral broker of information.” At a May 2008 meeting with a University of Alaska representative, the National Sea Grant Deputy Director Jim Murray said that NOAA had an “issue with Rick Steiner” and his “advocacy” letter. PEER’s new documents show that in July 2008, at NOAA’s request, the university decided to remove Steiner from future Sea Grant funding requests.

In a press release today, PEER supported Steiner’s position, writing, “Under Bush, NOAA programs, including Sea Grant, were ordered to lubricate oil company initiatives.” Steiner disparaged NOAA’s actions and warned, “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.”

Emily Aden