A U.S. Geological Survey study documenting how climate change has “dramatically reduced” glaciers in Montana came under fire from high-level Interior Department officials last May, according to a batch of newly released records under the Freedom of Information Act, as they questioned federal scientists’ description of the decline.
Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior, alerted colleagues in a May 10 email to the language the USGS had used to publicize a study documenting the shrinking of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966.
The news release began: “The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent.”
Highlighting that sentence, Domenech wrote to three other Interior officials, “This is a perfect example of them going outside their wheelhouse.”
Scott Cameron, who now serves as a principal deputy assistant secretary, responded: “They probably are relying on the percentages but the most basic point is we need to watch for inflammatory adverbs and adjectives in their press releases,” apparently referring to the use of “dramatically” by scientists from the USGS and Portland State University who conducted the study.
The USGS, the main scientific arm of Interior, publicly describes its mission as providing “impartial information” about the environment, including “the impacts of climate.” The agency has studied climate change since at least the 1970s.
Andrew Fountain, a geology professor at Portland State University who co-authored the study, said he had heard rumors that Interior officials were unhappy. “In short, they just didn’t like the idea we found yet more evidence of climate warming,” Fountain said.
But Fountain emphasized that studying climate change was well within the purview of USGS. “This is what we do. It’s not just that we look at glaciers, see they’re retreating and shrug our shoulders,” he said. “We try to figure out what’s going on.”
He added, “It is our wheelhouse.” [Continue reading…]
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