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NOAA allegedly halts scientific integrity probe on endangered whale conservation

NOAA allegedly halts scientific integrity probe on endangered whale conservation
© DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has allegedly halted a probe into a case of possible political interference in conservation measures. 

Advocacy group Democracy Forward said Wednesday that it was notified late last month that NOAA would pause its inquiry into alleged political interference in science regarding protections for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and blasted the agency’s reasons for doing so. 

NOAA launched a scientific integrity inquiry after Roll Call reported in March that protections for the whale species were weakened after they were reviewed by the agency’s “political team.”

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Following that report, Democracy Forward requested an investigation. The group announced Wednesday that it was informed in April that NOAA’s Scientific Integrity Committee had launched an inquiry, a step that precedes an investigation, into the matter. 

However, the group charged that late last month, the committee said it was pausing the probe because of ongoing litigation against the agency. 

NOAA spokespeople did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment. 

Democracy Forward blasted the agency’s reasons for the pause in a new letter to Scientific Integrity Officer Cynthia Decker on Wednesday, saying there’s no reason the inquiry can’t continue amid the litigation. 

“That there is overlap between the subject matters of the litigation and our complaint is not a valid basis for halting the inquiry of the Committee,” wrote the group’s Executive Director Anne Harkavy and Senior Counsel Michael Martinez. 

“Nothing in the Scientific Integrity Policy permits the sidelining of an inquiry into potential political interference in NOAA science for the benefit of a litigation position even if political interference is a component of the litigation," they continued. "There is no reason the two actions cannot proceed concurrently, especially since they have different scopes."

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They requested that the agency resume the inquiry, which was supposed to be completed around the time the group said it was paused. 

Roll Call reported this year that scientists found that blasting air guns near where right whales give birth could harm the animals, but were told to change their findings because the administration wants oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. 

The whale species’s population has declined to about 400, and they are often struck by ships or killed by being entangled in lobster gear. 

The case isn’t the first time that the agency, which is supposed to make its determinations based on science rather than politics, has come under scrutiny due to accusations of political interference. 

Last year the agency made headlines in the “Sharpiegate” incident after it released an unsigned statement saying that forecasts at one point showed that winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama after President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE repeatedly asserted that Alabama could be hit by the storm.

The agency also rebuked a tweet from the National Weather Service (NWS) that appeared to contradict the president. A recent watchdog report said that the White House had pushed for a “correction” to the tweet from NWS, and was given the option to approve the NOAA statement.