The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Luke Eshleman (202) 265-7337

NOAA Sea Grant Seeks to De-Fund Scientist for Advocacy

Protest on Oil Industry Bias in Sea Grant Seen to 'Cause Problems Nationally'


A well-respected University of Alaska marine scientist will have his
federal funding cut after a top National Oceanic & Atmospheric
Administration official complained about his "advocacy" on behalf of
marine conservation, according to documents released today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). NOAA's pressure has
led university officials to seek elimination of any further NOAA Sea
Grant funding for the scientist's work.

Professor Rick Steiner, a noted marine scientist and
environmentalist with the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program,
incurred the wrath of NOAA officials by protesting a pro-industry slant
in Sea Grant programs to promote oil drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Shortly after Steiner's March 18, 2008 letter and press conference, his
dean was approached by National Sea Grant Deputy Director Jim Murray,
who according to an e-mail from Dean Denis Wiesenburg recounting the
conversation, indicated that NOAA had "an issue with Rick Steiner"
because "he was acting as an advocate and asked if he was being paid
with Sea Grant funds", adding that "one agent can cause problems

As the basis for urging that Prof. Steiner "not be paid with Sea
Grant funds" NOAA's Murray cited manual guidance that Sea Grant
extension agents should strive to be "neutral brokers of information".
Ironically, Prof. Steiner, a tenured professor, had been publicly
protesting that the Sea Grant program was violating its own principle
of neutrality by stacking a program to favor offshore oil development
and improperly minimizing potential resource damage to Bristol Bay
fisheries and marine life.

"Under Bush, NOAA programs, including Sea Grant, were ordered to
lubricate oil company initiatives," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch whose organization is urging incoming NOAA Administrator-designate
Jane Lubchenco to strengthen the Sea Grant role in ocean protection.
"The Sea Grant program needs a thorough housecleaning starting with its

As a result of the NOAA threat, Dean
Wiesenburg recommended in December that Professor Steiner's Sea Grant
funding be terminated because Steiner "has chosen to be a maverick and
work independently," noting that "Mr. Steiner has devoted some of his
energy during the review period to publicly attacking the Alaska Sea
Grant program," and that "Steiner regularly takes strong public
positions on issues of public debate." Significantly, the dean did not
mention the quality or quantity of Prof. Steiner's award-winning marine
conservation extension efforts.

"The present crisis in our nation's marine and coastal ecosystems
requires a clear and urgent national response," said Prof. Steiner.
"But 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."

Read the e-mail describing the NOAA Sea Grant pique with Prof. Steiner

Look at Dean Wisenburg's recommendation

See the protest letter by Prof. Steiner and others that irked NOAA

View the PEER letter calling for a revamp of Sea Grant program

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.