Trump admin lets NOAA advisory panel die quietly

Source: Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Trump administration let a federal climate panel’s charter expire yesterday, quietly ending the NOAA committee’s two-year run.

Disbanded is the Sustained National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee, a 15-member panel of academics, industry representatives, government officials and nonprofit representatives tasked with deciding how to use the National Climate Assessment for long-term resilience planning.

The National Climate Assessment is mandated for release every four years by the 1990 Global Change Research Act, but there have been just three editions since the law’s passage. A draft of the fourth report — due out next year — has become a contentious issue for the Trump administration (Climatewire, Aug. 8).

Julie Roberts, who joined NOAA as communications director last week, said disbanding the panel won’t affect the completion of the fourth climate assessment, “which remains a key priority for the Department [of Commerce] and NOAA,” she wrote in an email.

The panel’s chairman, Richard Moss, also an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, said that while the demise of the panel may not affect the report’s release, it could hinder the ability of state and local governments to gain crucial information for mitigating and adapting to climate hazards, like floods and strong storms.

“We really were more about how do you take information that comes from the report and make it more useful?” he told E&E News. “People who are planning flood control infrastructure aren’t going to be turning to a report for that information.”

Before its termination, the committee had been producing recommendations on ways to make the climate analysis, which is consistently hundreds of pages long, more accessible to local officials and businesses.

“By terminating the committee, the process of preparing the recommendation is also terminated,” Moss said.

Panel members, who received no federal compensation, have committed to continue their work in a different capacity, the form of which is not yet clear, Moss said, but it will likely be more difficult to collect information from the public without federal support.

“And the recommendations themselves will carry less weight,” he said. “But we will find ways to engage with state and local authorities.”

The acting NOAA administrator, Ben Friedman, told Moss in an email Friday that the panel’s charter wouldn’t be renewed. Friedman offered no explanation, Moss said.

“The reality is there are a lot of political appointments that haven’t been made and a lot of career officials in acting positions, and it’s difficult for them — given the mixed signals being sent by this administration about climate change — to reappoint the committee,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s terribly shortsighted.”

Jerry Melillo, a distinguished scientist with the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., who led the last three climate assessments, said disbanding the panel will have real consequences.

“We were trying to encourage greater dialogue between the scientific community and stakeholder so they could better understand and interpret the science. … Anything that diminishes our ability to convey that information to the public makes the American people the losers in this kind of situation,” he said in a recent interview.

“This may be part of a bigger picture and larger strategy with which this particular administration de-emphasizes the importance of science in making decisions, especially with climate change.”

While state and local governments have requested federal guidance on climate mitigation and adaptation, the Trump administration seems to be headed in the opposite direction.

Last week, the president signed an executive order saying infrastructure built in flood-prone areas would no longer have to accommodate sea-level rise as a condition for getting federal funding (Greenwire, Aug. 15).

The advisory committee’s demise comes after an Obama-era climate panel bit the dust. The Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, a 2013 Interior Department initiative, disintegrated in June when its charter expired. Interior officials said if the panel is revived, it could have fewer members and a different objective (Climatewire, Aug. 17).

Melillo said if the Trump administration chooses to revive the climate assessment panel, it, too, could be given a new mission, but that’s unlikely.

“In some ways, in maybe a cynical sense,” he said, “the greatest action being taken by this particular administration on climate change is inaction.”