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Coastal science is gagged in Texas, too!


Science represented by John Anderson (l). Political 'science' represented by Rick Perry and Ryan Shaw (r).

by Len Bahr*

I’m certainly not a virgin when it comes to political interests trumping science when public welfare is involved. For two years I worked deep in the bowels of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and during the subsequent 21 years I observed many ‘nose-holding’ incidents within all three of the principal state environmental regulatory and resource agencies.**

Nevertheless, I just learned about a cheeky political charade playing out in Texas that rivals the most egregious examples of coastal disinformation in the Bayou State of which I’m aware.

Political correctness or ‘PC’ refers to consciously substituting cautious terms or even euphemisms for direct language, so as to avoid the risk of offending a reader or listener. I propose coining the phrase political incorrectness or ‘PIC’ for the sinister substitution of BS for facts.

A buddy in Dallas alerted me to an article by Harvey Rice in the October 12 Houston Chronicle that describes a campaign by Texas officials, all beholden to Rick Perry, to substitute PIC ‘facts’ for the sober conclusions in a technical report that broaches the verboten subject of anthropogenic climate change (ACC). The offending language that the officials flagged was written by a highly respected coastal scientist, John B. Anderson, Ph.D., professor of oceanography at Rice University.

The disputed document is a routine biannual update on the state of Galveston Bay that was commissioned for the EPA-sponsored Galveston Bay National Estuary Program (GBNEP). Louisiana’s Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) based in Thibodaux, is a sister to the GBNEP.

As a former member of the management committee for BTNEP I’m now curious about whether program director Kerry St Pe’ has felt any pressure from our governor’s office, with respect to the candid discussion of global warming and sea level rise in program documents.

The original version of the Galveston Bay report asserts that the rate of sea level rise along the east Texas coast has recently accelerated to 3 mm/year, more than five times the long term average of 0.5 mm/year. In addition to challenging this figure, officials insist on deleting statements to the fact that the sea level rise is primarily the consequence of thermal expansion of the world ocean from ongoing human-caused global warming.

Candidates for the presidency routinely bend the truth during the interminable election season. That doesn’t excuse Rick Perry’s complicity for hiding peer-reviewed technical information, especially when doing so could lull tens of thousands of at-risk coastal residents into complacency.

This blatant attempt to gag science has also been reported by Kate Sheppard in Mother Jones, who interviewed Professor Anderson and included the following quote:

“Sea level doesn’t just go up in Louisiana. We’re the next in line,” he says. “We are in fact starting to see many of the changes that Louisiana was seeing 20 years ago, yet we still have a state government that refuses to accept this is happening.”

On April 5 2010 I posted a list of the top ten American authorities on climate change that included physicist Joe Romm. Not surprisingly, the best coverage of the Texas incident that I’ve seen so far was posted by Dr. Romm in his blog

Texas Governor Rick Perry is as serious as a heart attack about occupying the White House in 2013. He’s equally serious about denying human caused global warming. His specially hand-picked TCEQ commissioner is, like Professor Anderson, a faculty member at another prestigious Lone Star State university, Texas A&M, which is coincidentally Perry’s alma mater.

That’s where the resemblance ends, however. Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D, is not a coastal scientist but an associate professor of agricultural engineering…who has established notoriety among the science community for his criticism of human-caused climate change. Professor Shaw was recently described by Andy Kroll in Mother Jones as Perry’s chief environmental cop.

The proximity of Galveston to Louisiana; our common risk of subsidence, sea level rise and hurricane vulnerability; and our governor’s close relations with and recent endorsement of Perry makes this incident chillingly relevant to the future of the gulf coast. When politics trumps science the public loses big time.

*Founding Editor

**DEQ, DNR and WL&F.

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  7. Thanks for drawing attention to Gov. Perry’s venality again, Len. In La., our Governor Jindal has managed to decouple the coastal and climate issues. You’ll recall that he and 3 of his agency heads (DEQ, DNR, DED) sent strongly worded letters to EPA in 2009, attacking the agency’s “Endangerment Finding” on Greenhouse Gases. The letters claimed that regulation of GHG’s would destroy Louisiana’s economy (with no proof, of course), and insinuated that the agency’s actions were unconstitutional (which was laughable, since they followed a Supreme Court decision.) But more notably, none of the letters mentioned Louisiana’s coastal crisis at all, or the state’s need for national funding to restore our wetlands, as if these problems didn’t exist at all. Such are the actions that erode the state’s credibility.

    While we’re on the subject, you noted at the time that the major national NGO’s working on coastal restoration here – Audubon, Environmental Defense, and National Wildlife Foundation – did not challenge Jindal on this, nor did they speak up when he and the delegation helped scuttle national climate legislation (again, while the state kept asking for tens of billions of federal dollars for the coast.) Most egregiously, these groups continued to raise money from their members and supporters on the climate issue and their supposed work towards federal legislation – never mentioning, of course, that their offices in Louisiana were abetting the state’s role in derailing that same legislation. They have in the process stained themselves with the Governor’s mendacity on this issue.

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