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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace
James Turner, Greenpeace, (415) 812-1142
Environmental Groups Cry Foul over Suspension of Polar Bear Scientist as Arctic Oil Drilling Plan is Approved
Top Officials Asked to Investigate Apparent Interference in Scientific Research
SAN FRANCISCO - August 4 - The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace today formally requested a full inquiry into the suspension of Dr. Charles Monnett, a distinguished Arctic scientist suspended last month as the Obama administration considered pending oil drilling plans for the region. The drilling plan for the Beaufort Sea was approved by the Department of the Interior today.
The groups are also requesting copies, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, of any correspondence regarding Dr. Monnett or his research between the Interior Department agency in charge of offshore drilling (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE) and Shell, the oil company pushing to exploit the fragile Arctic frontier off Alaska’s coast.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and White House Science Chief Dr. John Holdren, the groups argued that Monnett’s treatment risks undermining a 2009 presidential order intended to safeguard scientific independence following damning evidence of political interference and industry bias under the Bush administration.
Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said: “Dr. Monnett appears to be the subject of precisely the type of disgraceful political interference that President Obama promised to end. This incident will further chill agency scientists from speaking about and publishing their research. Unfortunately, the Interior Department today appears to be as dysfunctional and beholden to the oil industry as it was under the Bush administration.”
Kert Davies, Greenpeace research director, said: “The Bush administration leant on scientists who didn’t toe the line and suppressed important work to help out the oil industry. The current president has tried to fix that, but the signs are that this agency is falling back into bad habits. It’s time for a full and open inquiry to reassure the public that science, not corporate greed, is driving our national energy debate.”
The letter stated that the incident shows BOEMRE “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.”
As a senior scientist at BOEMRE, Monnett was responsible for conducting and coordinating crucial research on the distribution of marine mammals. Such research is conducted to produce baseline data against which to judge the potential impacts of proposed oil drilling.
Last week, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a formal complaint against BOEMRE on Monnett’s behalf for the actions taken against him.