It is the same old story. Government scientists are being fired, or coerced with threats, to either tow the party line or shut up. Science should govern policy. Instead, the politicians are demanding, like never before, that policy govern science. The most egregious agencies have been the EPA and NASA but the trend is spreading and a story from about a year ago is a case in point.
The Department of Interior refers to itself as the nation’s landlord. It controls almost 30% of the nation’s 2.27 billion acres of land and its natural resources, and as a regulatory agency, it creates policies to govern how public land and these resources are used. Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar the agency has engaged in an aggressive crusade to obstruct and undermine the use of natural resources, restrict human access to public lands, and increase its influence over private property. Decisions made by the agency are presumed to be based on sound scientific analysis, but often times policy is driving the science, rather than science driving environmental policy. This has led to harmful decisions and a violation of the public trust.
A case in point is the story of DOI science adviser and scientific integrity officer, Dr. Paul Houser, who found out that by simply doing his job can be hazardous to one’s career. Dr. Houser is an expert in hydrology who was hired by DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate scientific data used in the department’s decision making process. He was assigned several Western State projects including a scheme to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Northern California—the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. When a summary of science posted on the web to support DOI’s claim for removal of the dams omitted several crucial factors from expert panel reports, Dr. Houser brought his concerns to his superiors. He was repeatedly told to refrain from sharing his concerns through electronic communication, which could be subject to Freedom of Information Act discovery.
Dr. Houser learned firsthand that policy was driving the science, rather than the other way around, when he was told by his superiors at DOI, “Secretary Salazar wants to remove those dams. So your actions here aren’t helpful.”
According to the DOI the premise for Klamath River dams removal is to restore Coho salmon spawning habitat above the dams. However, official DOI documents reveal scientific concerns that dam removal may, in fact, result in species decline based on millions of tons of toxic sediment build up behind the dams that will make its way to the ocean. Water temperature increases without the dams could also negatively impact the salmon. These studies were ignored. Concerns about the human toll and impact to local Klamath Basin communities were also brushed aside. Those most interested in the well-being of the environment they live and work in, were given a backseat to special interests thousands of miles away.
The Klamath hydroelectric dams provide clean inexpensive energy to thousands of local residents who will be forced to pay much higher premiums if the dams are removed because California has strict new laws for use of renewable energy. The town of Happy Camp sits on the banks of the Klamath River and could be wiped out with seasonal flooding without the dams. Once Coho salmon are introduced into the upper Klamath, farmers and ranchers will be faced with water use restrictions and invasive government regulation of private land. The economic impact will be devastating, property values will depreciate and the agriculture community, often operating on slim profit margins, will be subjected to the fate of the once vibrant logging industry which fell victim to the spotted owl crusades.
Last year, Dr. Houser raised these concerns and was subsequently fired by the DOI. “I put my concerns forward and immediately thereafter I was pushed out of the organization,” he stated. The agency sent a clear message to the rest of their employees and scientists – Salazar’s dam busting agenda cannot be subject to any internal scientific scrutiny. Goebbels would be proud. Truth must be repressed when it contradicts the objective.
Dr. Houser did the right thing. He did his job. His integrity as a scientist was more important than a paycheck. But he remains concerned about his colleagues in DOI, “There are a lot of good scientists that work for the government but they are scared, they are scared that what happened to me might happen to them. This is an issue (about) the honesty and transparency of government and an issue for other scientists in government who want to speak out.” A few weeks ago Dr. Houser settled a wrongful discharge case with the DOI. Terms of his settlement are not public.
Now, seven more DOI scientists working on the Klamath Project have filed a complaint with PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) claiming they have been reassigned or terminated for disagreement with the integrity of the science used to support dam removal. They have charged DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation’s management with “coercive manipulation, sublimating science to political priorities, censorship, and scientific misconduct.”
The government’s use of fictional science in the Klamath dam removal project should concern every American. Our public servants at DOI are brazenly advancing their own agendas at the expense of the truth and regardless of adverse impacts on the environment, humans, and on rural communities. Environment and human interests are not incompatible. We have to find solutions that work to the benefit of both. That requires agendas be put aside and allow complete science to determine policy.
DOI Secretary Ken Salazar is stepping down in March. His replacement needs to be someone who can be trusted to end the culture of fictional science as a means to advance environmental agendas.