For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337; Prof. Rick Steiner (907) 360-4503
NOAA Petitioned to Remove Gag on Sea Grant Researchers
University of Alaska Scientist Stripped of Grant for Speaking About Pro-Oil Bias
WASHINGTON - The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration should not use
its marine research grants to prevent recipient scientists from
speaking out on matters of "public concern," according to a rulemaking
petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). This fall, the University of Alaska withdrew
federal Sea Grant funding from a prominent marine scientist under
pressure from NOAA officials who complained about his "advocacy" for
University of Alaska President Mark
Hamilton approved the removal of any further NOAA Sea Grant funding for
Professor Rick Steiner, a noted marine conservation specialist, in a
formal decision on October 15, 2009. The stated basis for the action
was that the "funding agency expresses concern in the context of some
public controversy" in which Prof. Steiner spoke at a press conference
protesting a pro-oil industry slant in a Sea Grant conference on
proposed petroleum development Bristol Bay, home to internationally
renowned and commercially important salmon and trout runs.
correspondence with PEER this spring, NOAA officials defended their
position citing Sea Grant guidance discouraging researchers from taking
"positions on issues of public debate." PEER is asking NOAA to clarify
its guideline so that it does not infringe academic freedom or First
Amendment free speech rights of scientists.
In addition, the
PEER petition maintains that the NOAA anti-advocacy guidance is
hopelessly vague and has been selectively applied to silence oil
industry critics while ignoring promotion of industry positions in Sea
Grant publications and conferences - a bias that Prof. Steiner was
"The Sea Grant non-advocacy guidance is
clearly being used as a gag rule - in this case to silence someone
pointing out the implicit pro-development advocacy in Sea Grant
programs," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Dr.
Jane Lubchenco, the current NOAA Administrator, is a former Sea Grant
recipient who has voiced the need for scientists to speak out on issues
such as climate change and global threats to marine life. "We would
hope that the current leadership at NOAA will not repeat the Bush
administration's penchant for seeking political control over the
content of scientific work and perspectives."
now has come forward to express concerns about oil and gas activities
in Bristol Bay, mirroring Prof. Steiner's position that originally drew
"If we wish to apply the best science,
knowledge, and creative ideas in ocean policy, then scientists and
educators funded by NOAA grants have to be able to seek and speak their
truth, without fear of administrative retribution," said Prof. Steiner.
"That is exactly what the PEER petition requests and they are to be
truly commended for their effort."
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