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Here’s another example of the Trump administration naming people to political posts in federal agencies in order to damage and destroy public trust in those agencies. This time it’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which, among other responsibilities, runs the National Weather Service and produces all sorts of information and data on climate to “help people understand and prepare for climate variability and change.” The administration just named David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology and long-time climate change denier affiliated with the conservative astroturf Heartland Institute, as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. It’s going to take many years for executive agencies across the federal government to come back from the damage created by this administration.
David Legates, a University of Delaware professor of climatology who has spent much of his career questioning basic tenets of climate science, has been hired for a top position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Legates confirmed to NPR that he was recently hired as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary of commerce for observation and prediction. The position suggests that he reports directly to Neil Jacobs, the acting head of the agency that is in charge of the federal government’s sprawling weather and climate prediction work.
Neither Legates nor NOAA representatives responded to questions about Legates’ specific responsibilities or why he was hired. The White House also declined to comment.
Legates has a long history of using his position as an academic scientist to publicly cast doubt on climate science. His appointment to NOAA comes as Americans face profound threats stoked by climate change, from the vast, deadly wildfires in the West to an unusually active hurricane season in the South and East.
Global temperatures have already risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Warming is happening the fastest at the Earth’s poles, where sea ice is melting, permafrost is thawing and ocean temperatures are heating up, with devastating effects on animals and humans alike.
Talking about the weather is supposed to be the one safe topic that people from all stripes can talk about. But John Oliver ruins that — in an extremely funny and informative way of course! He explains the importance of the National Weather Service (NWS), which is a sub-agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NWS makes all of its weather forecasts and climate data openly available for free and also shares data and modeling with other weather services around the world through its membership in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). One could argue that the National Weather Service is among the most critical government services and a global public good.
Over the last 15-20 years however, there has been a concerted push by private companies to get into the weather game. Whereas companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel would in the past use NWS data and add value to it, today, according to Andrew Blum — who wrote the recently published book “The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast” —
“…you’ve got companies running their own models, deploying their own observing systems,” and as Oliver points out, acting as gatekeepers to weather data. Check out Blum’s interview on a recent PBS Newshour for more context and by all means, watch Oliver’s piece below.
The most recent move at privatization of the weather is when the Trump administration named Barry Myers, the ex-CEO of AccuWeather, for the dual post of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, Department of Commerce and include oversight of the National Weather Service. His nomination was submitted in October, 2017 and renewed in January, 2018 and again in 2019. His nomination was stalled for quite a while, but in April of this year, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted 14-12 along party lines to move Myers’ nomination forward.
Myers’ nomination is extremely problematic for 2 reasons: 1) He has gone on the record in support of privatizing the weather service — in 2005, he and his brother gave money to then-Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) who “introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services”; and 2) AccuWeather this year agreed to pay a substantial fine for “sexual harassment and a hostile work environment” while Myers was AccuWeather’s chief executive. Is this really the person we want providing oversight to the National Weather Service and NOAA as a whole?!