Chairs Raúl M. Grijalva and Eddie Bernice Johnson Lead House Letter to NOAA Pushing for Explanation of Political Interference in Whale Safety Assessment

September 23, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) today led a letter with three other key House colleagues asking for an explanation of political interference in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) assessment of seismic testing impacts on North Atlantic right whales. The letter seeks the swift release of a pending scientific integrity inquiry the agency’s political leaders have refused to publish and asks for a full briefing to explain the delay.

Documents obtained by CQ Roll Call earlier this year and cited in the letter – available online at

https://bit.ly/2FI2pyr – suggest that expert scientific opinions on whale conservation measures were watered down by NOAA political appointees to allow more seismic testing in the habitats of North Atlantic right whales, which are critically endangered and number at only 400 individuals. Fossil fuel companies use seismic testing, which is conducted by setting off high-intensity sonar “guns” that badly damage whales’ ability to communicate with one another, to identify buried fossil fuel deposits.

On July 29, three days past the deadline to have produced a final inquiry report, NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Committee, in consultation with NOAA’s Office of the General Counsel, said that it could not release its findings because of ongoing litigation at NOAA over the weakening of protections for the North Atlantic right whale. As the letter states, nothing within the Procedural Handbook for NAO 202- 735D: Scientific Integrity allows for the delay of an inquiry report due to ongoing litigation, raising the prospect that the findings are being blocked for political reasons rather than over legitimate procedural concerns.

 

As the lawmakers write, “Scientific recommendations should not be altered after political review. This alleged interference by political appointees threatens the integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness of science from NOAA, which had been long considered to be one of the most apolitical agencies in the United States government.”

 

The letter is signed by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife; Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), chair of the Science Subcommittee on Environment; and Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), author of the House-passed Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act to ban offshore drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

 

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