After more than two years of waiting for Senate confirmation, Barry Myers has withdrawn his name from consideration to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Maybe now, President Donald Trump will consider tapping a scientist to run a scientific agency, as his predecessors typically did.
Only in the Trump administration could an agency such as NOAA be at high risk. A strictly reality-based organization, it is responsible for monitoring the planet, issuing warnings about storms and predicting the weather without fear or favor. Perhaps it was bound to run afoul of the fact-allergic Trump.
Yes, even weather prediction has become politicized in the Trump era. The agency contradicted the president after he said in September that Alabama was at risk of being struck by Hurricane Dorian.
Trump then insisted that NOAA walk back its statement. After Mick Mulvaney and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross got involved, NOAA issued an embarrassing, unsigned rebuke to the field office that had dared calm Alabamians worried about the president’s unfounded warnings of an approaching storm.
NOAA is also a leading authority on global warming, which Trump has called a “hoax.” The agency last week announced that 2019 is likely to be the second-warmest year on record, despite the fact that it is not an El Niño year. The warmest year on record, 2016, saw a strong El Niño, a natural variation that warms the oceans and the atmosphere.
It is not a good sign that 2019’s warmth is only just behind. “October 2019 was the 43rd-straight October to be warmer than the 20th-century average, and the 418th straight warmer-than-average month,” the Washington Post’s Andrew Freedman noted. “This means anyone younger than 34 has not lived through a cooler-than-average year from a global standpoint.” Every time NOAA reminds the public that the Earth is warming, it implicitly impugns the president’s refusal to confront the issue.
So far, Trump has mostly ignored this sort of news, rather than attempt to prevent its dissemination or retraction. Myers was controversial not for his views on climate change, which are more mainstream than Trump’s, but because he used to head the private weather forecasting company AccuWeather, which has advocated limiting the National Weather Service.
With Myers now out of the picture, the agency needs someone without conflicts of interest, with expertise and with the mettle to resist when the White House calls demanding facts be replaced with spin. Those may not be the qualities the Trump administration is seeking — but they are the qualities senators should demand.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST