Unlike all of his predecessors, Barry Myers, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is not a scientist.
Yet unlike nearly every other environmental agency head picked by the current White House, the chief executive of the forecasting company AccuWeather understands that climate change is real and caused by humans.
“If ice is melting, ice is melting, and one’s opinion about it doesn’t matter,” Myers said Wednesday morning at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “We can’t dispute the facts once they’re in front of us, and we need to act upon them.”
But Myers’ apparent break with an administration stacked full of people who reject the overwhelming evidence that climate change is serious, worsening and manmade didn’t trump Democratic senators’ concerns that he’s going to make major changes at NOAA ― changes like privatizing the information the National Weather Service produces or forcing the agency to rely on private companies’ satellite data.
The 74-year-old businessman has complained in the past about publicly funded products rivaling his company’s services. “We work hard every day competing with other companies and we also have to compete with the government,” Myers told ABC News in May 2005.
That same year, AccuWeather spent $40,000 lobbying the House, Senate and Commerce Department ― which includes NOAA ― on “commercial weather industry issues,” according to a lobbying disclosure first reported by CNN. Then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who in 2005 introduced a bill aimed at preventing NOAA and the National Weather Service from competing with some services offered by private companies, received donations from Barry Myers and his brother, Joel Myers, who founded AccuWeather.
In March of this year, Barry Myers told The Washington Post that a bill instructing NOAA to work with private companies on matters like buying commercially provided weather data, instead of launching new government satellites, would “serve as a blue print for the next NOAA administrator.”
Myers, who has promised to fully divest from AccuWeather if he’s confirmed, said Wednesday that he would not seek to privatize services. But the White House is calling for a 16 percent NOAA budget cut, slashing roughly $900 million from climate, weather and Arctic research.
“I understand the nature of the cuts, and I understand why they were done,” Myers said, adding that the offices within NOAA will “need to certainly examine all their programs.”
Pressed by Democrats on the science committee, Myers pledged to maintain climate research and to allow scientists to speak publicly about their peer-reviewed work. He also said he would not assign scientists to other divisions based on the conclusions of their research.
“I know what quality research looks like. I know what peer-reviewed research looks like,” he said. “Scientists should be free to operate in that kind of an environment.”
Myers’ assurances stand in stark contrast to the acts of other Trump officials and nominees with environmental responsibilities.
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and an ardent global warming denier, has spent his nearly 10 months in office dismantling climate regulations, expunging climate science and creating new rules to favor industry-funded research. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been accused of reassigning a federal scientist for warning about the dangers of climate change to Alaska natives. Kathleen Hartnett White advanced to a full Senate confirmation Wednesday to lead the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, despite demonstrating cringeworthy ignorance of basic scientific facts at a hearing earlier this month.
“I know what quality research looks like. I know what peer-reviewed research looks like.”
But telling senators the right thing isn’t enough. Energy Secretary Rick Perry danced around the issue of climate science at his confirmation hearing and played up the growth of wind energy in Texas while he was governor. Yet Perry has turned out to be one of the most vocal supporters for eliminating greenhouse gas regulations, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and bailing out the coal industry with taxpayer money.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), perhaps the most vehement climate change denier in the Senate, asked Myers if he would “be willing to listen to qualified scientists on every subject, including climate change.” Coming from a lawmaker who once brought a snowball to the Senate floor to try to disprove the warming of the planet, it was a loaded question, essentially inquiring about Myers’ openness to debunked research that calls the consensus on climate change into question.
Myers smiled. “Yes,” he said. “I would, Senator.”