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Feds change tune on investigation of Arctic scientist

Previous questioning of Charles Monnett focused on research; Inspector General‘s office now says it’s about contract procurement and project management

A female polar bear and her two cubs travel along the ice pack north of the Alaska coast.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal government is now saying its investigation of a biologist working in the Arctic is related to the management and procurement side of a polar bear study, despite the fact that investigators questioned the researcher extensively about his scientific work in a previous interview.

In a Feb. 23 interview, Department of Interior Inspector General officials who identified themselves as criminal investigators exhaustively questioned Charles Monnet about his aerial survey work involving whales and polar bears, with no questions relating to the procurement side of the work.

The Feb. 23 interview appeared to be clearly aimed at questioning the validity of a peer-reviewed paper Monnett wrote and published that suggested global warming threats to polar bears. Here’s an example of the line of questioning from the interview, taken from the transcript:

Investigator Eric May: Well, and, and let me – it, it – so incidental  sightings of marine mammals, which are not the focus and target of the survey, do not represent, statistically speaking, the  valid data and, therefore, wouldn’t it be questionable as to why the data was used to extrapolate such new scientific findings as  your manuscript presented?

Due to the nature of that interview, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog and whistle-blower protection group, believes Monnett is being targeted for his work on polar bears during a time when the federal government is in the process of evaluating a number of proposals to develop offshore energy resources in the Arctic.

BOEMRE issued a stop-work order on the study, but lifted that suspension. According to PEER, the study, in partnership with the University of Alberta, helps track polar bears across international boundaries and has found a dramatic expansion of polar bears’ home ranges as they cope with diminished sea ice.

“This study deserves a citation rather than a black eye,” PEER director Jeff Ruch said in a press release. The group is providing legal representation for Monnett.

In PEER’s view, the suspension and questioning of Monnett is a “witch hunt” related to the political and environmental controversy surrounding Arctic energy development and the larger issue of global warming impacts in the Arctic, as well as the endangered species status of polar bears.

The Bureau referred its initial findings to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to pursue criminal charges. Instead, the findings of the investigation will be the grounds for an internal administrative review by BOEMRE, according to a July 29  memo from the Inspector General to Monnett.

The memo directs Monnett to be prepared to answer questions about his actions as a biologist and “collateral duties involving contracts as an official of the U.S. Government,” and indicates the questioning may follow up on the previous interview relating to the “integrity and representation” of Monnett’s official work.

“There were no mysteries about how Dr. Monnett handled his responsibilities related to the procurement of this or any other research project in his scientific portfolio,” said Ruch, whose organization has filed a legal request for the documents BOEMRE used to justify his suspension.  “We are concerned that the IG has expanded its vindictive fishing expedition into yet another area beyond its expertise.”

According to PEER, Monnett’s role as technical representative for the contracting officer did not give him authority to commit the government to contractual relationships. The group says that the contractual relationship between the U.S. government and the University of Alberta was transparent, with all communications between Dr. Monnett and University of Alberta researchers generally copied to numerous contracting and management officials.

Both survival rates and total population size of some polar bear population appear to be in decline and are also significantly correlated with changes in ice distribution and the duration of the open water season, according to a recent study from the Beaufort Sea region.

Links courtesy PEER:

Read the IG notice

See the BOEM Director’s statement

Look at the background of the Monnett case

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9 Responses

  1. Sounds like a fishing expedition to me.

  2. Big oil wants to roast this guy so they can encourage anti-science skepticism and lobby congress to de-list any endangered or threatened species that might impede the next drilling project.

  3. Keep in mind just who controls the Government. Realize that one party is hell bent on giving away the store, while the other party does the same. The Oil & Gas people are getting more brazen in everything they do, who they do it with, and as they say: “follow the money” if you want to understand what’s taking place around you. The phrase “bought & paid for” takes on new meaning to those naive enough to drink the kool-aid served up today. Keep in mind, a spill or blow out in the Arctic isn’t like the Gulf, where it disappears under the surface, then is diluted so to speak, it will keep on destroying that eco-system. Remember that the Russians are also going to be drilling up there too, so, the competition will be intense to produce. In that kind of atmosphere, which as in the Gulf, “safety” will take a back seat to bringing in the well[s]. If anything, the O&G industry doesn’t care one bit the damage that occurs while they drill. Food for thought.

  4. [...] project's managementThe Associated PressUpdate on Suspension of Polar Bear ResearcherScience NowSummit County Citizens Voice -Fast Company -Mother Jonesall 127 news [...]

  5. [...] On Tuesday, Monnett’s legal representatives at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a memorandum that the IG’s office issued to the biologist last Friday indicating that its investigation centers on the procurement process for a research project on “Populations and Sources of Recruitment in Polar Bears.” The University of Alberta in Canada is the lead organization on the ongoing study, but BOEMRE provided a substantial portion of the funding. The agency ordered to the university to “cease and desist” all work on the study five days before Monnett was suspended in mid-July. [NWF Update: Suspension has since been lifted.] [...]

  6. The text “The University of Alberta in Canada is the lead organization on the ongoing study, but BOEMRE provided a substantial portion of the funding. The agency ordered to the university to “cease and desist” all work on the study five days before Monnett was suspended in mid-July. [NWF Update: Suspension has since been lifted.]” strongly suggests that Monnett’s suspension has been lifted. Is this the case? I think only the cease and desist order was lifted. Can someone help me out here?

    TIA

  7. J. Scott Armstrong of The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Kesten C. Green of Business and Economic Forecasting, Monash University; and Willie Soon of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, published their findings in 2008, arguing that the claims of declining population among polar bears are not based on scientific forecasting principles

  8. Isn’t it rather naive to consider papers that were published in 2008 to be relevant in 2011? I also question what 2 economists & an astrophysics department person have to do with this? Then, as with all such research papers, who was the sponsor? In today’s atmosphere of research, it’s necessary to know who provides the financial resources to understand what the motives of the conclusions of said research are, regardless of how benign it may seem. This a very high stakes operation proposed here, so it’s very critical to understand the ins & outs of what is taking place. Face it, the “Oil & Gas” industry has gotten rather sloppy when it comes to safety & the environment today. They really don’t care, because they know they can drag any litigation out for years, as well as the present corruption that has been in the forefront with certain agencies within the government.

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