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Representative Lamar Smith ( R–TX) at a September 2015 screening of the film <i>The Martian</i> in Washington, D.C.

Representative Lamar Smith ( R–TX) at a September 2015 screening of the film The Martian in Washington, D.C.

NASA/Joel Kowsky/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

House science committee demands that NOAA widen its internal search for climate change emails

The hiatus in hostilities—if there was one—is over between Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), chair of the House of Representatives science committee, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Smith issued a letter on 22 February chastising NOAA officials for “the slow pace and limited scope” of agency submissions so far of emails and other correspondence requested under a 13 October 2015 subpoena issued by the panel. The letter also demands that NOAA’s internal search now include a much broader range of terms, including “temperature,” “climate,” and “change,” and that it submit these documents by 29 February.

Over the past 9 months or so, Smith and NOAA have squared off over claims that a Science paper authored by federal climate researchers was rushed into publication to advance the climate policies of the Obama administration. The committee’s October 2015 subpoena demanded that NOAA submit all correspondence by administration officials relating to the paper, dating back to 1 January 2014. In the 22 February letter, Smith notes that NOAA has to date submitted 201 pages of documents and emails from various members of its staff. However, NOAA had directed its staff to search for certain terms—“hiatus,”  “global temperature,” and “climate study”—a selection of terms which Smith called “unnecessarily narrow.” The committee now wants NOAA to broaden its search considerably, to include correspondence from many more NOAA officials as well as an expanded list of terms from those and previously searched officials. Those new terms include:

The committee also demanded documents relating to how NOAA implements the Data Quality Act, as well as the peer review record relating to the 2015 Science paper, citing a letter signed by 325 “scientists, engineers, economists, and other scholars” and sent to the committee 28 January that called into question NOAA’s adherence to the Data Quality Act.  

A spokesperson for NOAA says that the administration is currently reviewing the committee’s letter. The minority leader of the House Science Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), has not issued an official response to the 22 February letter, although last fall she registered strong objections to what she called a “fishing expedition”. The Union of Concerned Scientists today issued its own letter addressed to Smith, noting that the committee’s demands are “enormously broad and can only be construed as a ‘fishing expedition,’ given there is no evidence of misconduct.”