Inspector general backs NOAA in climate-change dispute

A review of e-mail exchanges between federal scientists and British academics embroiled in a politically charged dispute over climate change found no misconduct at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to a report just released by the Commerce Department's inspector general.

"We did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data … or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures," wrote Inspector General Todd Zinser in a letter and report sent Feb. 18 to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who had requested the review.

In addition, the report "found no evidence to suggest that NOAA was noncompliant" with the 2001 Information Quality Act, or the 1999 Shelby Amendment requirements for Freedom of Information Act release of documents on scientific deliberations.

In May 2010, Inhofe asked the Commerce IG to examine issues surrounding the Internet posting of e-mail exchanges taken from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom in a 2009 computer hacking incident.

The senator also sought a rationale for a statement that NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco made in 2009 testimony to a House committee that the e-mails from Britain "really do nothing to undermine the very strong scientific consensus and the independent scientific analyses of thousands of scientists around the world that tell us that the Earth is warming and that the warming is largely a result of human activities."

The IG reviewed 1,073 e-mails, 289 of which involved NOAA employees, spanning 13 years, and interviewed Lubchenco and the scientists involved with eight of the e-mails. The IG's staff also addressed an e-mail involving the award of a NOAA contract to the British climate research center and a joke e-mail containing a photographic image of Inhofe stranded on a polar ice cap and depicted as a marooned character from the 1960s Gilligan's Island television show. The report recommended NOAA improve its responsiveness to FOIA requests and said the federal scientist involved in the joke image was disciplined.

An Inhofe spokesman on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he is ranking member, said: "Sen. Inhofe believes the IG conducted a thorough and balanced investigation. He is very interested in following up on several issues identified in the report, including one in which a senior NOAA employee possibly thwarted the release of important federal scientific information for the public to assess and analyze. This is no doubt a serious matter that, along with other issues identified by the IG, deserves further investigation."

Managers at NOAA welcomed the report as "the latest independent analysis to clear climate scientists of allegations of mishandling of climate information," said Mary Glackin, the agency's deputy undersecretary for operations. "None of the investigations have found any evidence to question the ethics of our scientists, or raise doubts about NOAA's understanding of climate change science."

She also defended the handling of the FOIA requests. "The NOAA scientists responded in good faith to the FOIA requests based on their understanding of the request and in accordance with the legal guidance provided in 2007," Glackin said. "NOAA's policies, practices, and the integrity and commitment of our scientists have resulted in NOAA's climate records being the gold standard that our nation and the world has come to rely on for authoritative information about the climate."

David Doniger, director of the climate change center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the report "should put the issue to rest. It's time for the climate-change deniers to pull their heads out of the sand."

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