Energy

Scientists Throw Hissy Fit After DOI Gives Ryan Zinke Data About Oil Before It Goes Public

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Two government officials quit out of protest after Interior Department Chief Ryan Zinke requested “sensitive” oil data days before the agency is expected to release the documents.

U.S. Geological Survey officials Murray Hitzman and Larry Meinert resigned from their posts after the Department of Interior (DOI) agreed to provide Zinke with National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska data, according to a Wednesday liberal-leaning Mother Jones report.

Zinke got the information “several days in advance of the information’s public release, in contradiction of my interpretation of USGS fundamental science policy,” Hitzman (former energy-and-mineral associate director) wrote in his resignation letter Wednesday.

Deputy associate director Meinert told reporters he also planned to leave the agency over what he said was DOI’s decision to pressure scientists into violating procedural standards.

Agency officials cited a decades-old law as a rationale to fork over the data. Zinke and Bernhardt’s legal authority to access the information comes from a 1950 law granting the secretary “all functions of all other officers of the Department,” DOI officials told reporters. Some Obama-era DOI officials disagree.

“The problem…with asserting that authority — even if it legally exists — is that the purpose of those internal USGS policies is to preserve the reputation of the USGS as a purveyor of objective science,” Obama-era, DOI associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein said. “Once you start injecting political officials into the process of developing scientific assessments, you raise serious questions about the objectivity of the science.”

Activists threw flack at the DOI in the past for the Interior’s fossil-fuel management. The agency instructed officials to adopt a new screening process for grants and programs that promote the Trump administration’s top priorities, according The Washington Post’s January article.

Scott Cameron, DOI’s principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, directed bureau assistants to filter grants through his aides. Awards of at least $50,000 to nonprofit advocacy groups are subject to the review process.

The move incensed Obama-era officials — Congress-passed laws govern these programs, Clinton-era, Obama-era DOI deputy secretary David J. Hayes told WaPo.

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