Charles Monnett

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Charles Monnett, Ph.D. is an Arctic Wildlife biologist with U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS).

As Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) for BOEMRE, Monnett coordinated much of the agency's research on Arctic wildlife and ecology and had duties that included managing about $50 million worth of studies on the impact of oil/gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean. [1]

In July 2011, Monnett was suspended for 6 weeks, and lost his COR status, pending an ongoing investigation by the DOI Office of Inspector General. His defenders claimed he was subjected to a smear campaign.[2]

In December 2013, The Department of the Interior settled a whistleblower suit initiated by Monnett. They cleared his record of any reference to wrongdoing and awarded him $100,000.[3]

Research[edit]

Monnett's research has been focused on the Arctic. He is the author of several studies on the Arctic ecosystem, particularly several done for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill[4][5][6]

Some of Monnett's most noted work deals with polar bears and the effects of climate change on the species. Monnett was on a research flight tracking bowhead whales in 2004 when he and a colleague, Jeff Gleason, spotted four dead polar bears floating in the water after a storm.[2] After additional research, Monnett found that this was "the first time dead bears [had] been spotted among more than 350 sightings of swimming bears recorded over 16 years of surveying the area."[7] Monnett conjectured that this was due to "bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. They [were] being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed [were] melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart."[8]

Monnett published his findings in 2006 in an article in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology.[9] Al Gore referenced Monnett's study in his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which made the polar bears into an important symbol of climate change.[10] The paper was cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.[11]

Investigation and suspension[edit]

On July 18, 2011, Dr. Monnett was suspended and put on administrative leave by BOEMRE, pending results of an investigation into "integrity issues" by the DOI Office of Inspector General.[12][13] During his paid leave, he was forbidden from speaking to colleagues or entering any Interior offices.

BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich stated that Monnett's dismissal was not politically motivated, and did not involve questions about his scientific integrity.[14] However, there was comment from climate "sceptics" that did raise questions about the integrity of scientists. British Conservative columnist Ann Widdecombe used the case to justify her view that "climate change money should go to armed services".[15]

Monnett's legal representative, the non-profit watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), stated that Monnett is subjected to a "witch hunt" regarding his 2006 scientific paper on drowned polar bears[16] and released a transcript of a February 2011 interview of Monnett conducted by criminal investigator of the DOI Office of Inspector General.[17] Although Monnett was questioned in the interview about the polar bear paper, it is not clear what relation, if any, it had to the integrity issues which bureau officials have cited. The investigations did impact on Monnett's oversight of a Canadian research study: BOEMRE briefly issued a stop-work order on the study, which was providing data on the movements of radio-collared polar bears being monitored by Canadian scientists.[18]

Monnett returned to work on August 25, although BOEMRE declared that Monnett will have no role in developing or managing contracts and will instead be in the environmental assessment division, and that future administrative actions are not ruled out.[10]

The investigation of a scientist by criminal investigators of the Inspector General triggered an outcry of protests from scientists and environmental and legal watchdog groups alike. "There's no way this can have anything but a chilling effect on the ability of other scientists to carry out their work," says Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute with the Center for Biological Diversity.[10] and group of Australian scientists sent a letter to President Obama, stating "This seems like the type of anti-science action that would have occurred under your predecessor and is similar to actions more expected in the pre-1989 Soviet Union".[19]

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) so far takes a neutral stand on the issue. "We won't know, until the inspector general is done, exactly what the charges are and exactly what they are finding," says Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.[10] Last year, UCS declared that the new DOI scientific integrity policy, as instated by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on September 29, 2010, was "not an agency-wide scientific integrity policy as it states, but rather a scientist misconduct policy".[20]

PEER filed an official complaint with the DOI to protest the treatment of Monnett under this suspension and inquiry, asked that Monnett be reinstated and that the investigation be dropped or pursued by specifying charges against Monnett, along with a public apology from BOEMRE and the Inspector General.[16][21]

Outcome[edit]

In 2012 Monnett was reprimanded for the improper release of government documents. The documents in question (from 2007 to early 2008) were, according to BOEMRE, cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in making decisions to vacate BOEMRE's approval of the Shell oil exploration plans in the Beaufort sea. Monnett appears to be reprimanded because these documents were apparently exempt under the Freedom of Information Act. [22] Also, he appears to have been cleared of scientific misconduct.[23]

In 2013, the Department of the Interior settled a whistleblower suit initiated by Monnett with the assistance of PEER. While claiming that "The settlement document states that it does not constitute any admission of liability and that the agency entered into it to avoid the costs of litigation" the Department removed all reprimand from Monnett's record and awarded him a cash settlement of $100,000. Monnett claimed that the agency was breaking laws to push through Arctic offshore drilling permits. In addition to the other agreements in the settlement, the agency promised to issue a certificate for a conservation award from the secretary of the interior which Monnett claimed to have won in 2010 but that the agency removed his name.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thiessen, Mark (August 2, 2011). "Polar Bear Scientist Suspended for Management, Not Quality of Research". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved August 24, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Goldenberg, Suzanne (29 July 2011). "Arctic scientist suspended over 'integrity issues'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Greenfield-Boyce, Nell (4 December 2013). "Polar Bear Researcher gets $100,000 in Settlement with Feds". National Public Radio. Retrieved 22 January 2104. 
  4. ^ "Mortality and reproduction of female sea otters in Prince William Sound, Alaska, Marine mammal study". Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Mortality and reproduction of sea otters oiled and treated as a result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Marine mammal study". Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  6. ^ "Movements of weanling and adult female sea otters in Prince William Sound, Alaska, after the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill, Marine mammal study". Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Graham Rowe, Duncan (2 May 2006). "New Red List paints bleak picture of extinction". New Scientist. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  8. ^ Iredale, Will (18 December 2005). "Polar bears drown as ice shelf melts". Times of London. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  9. ^ Monnett, Charles; Gleason, Jeffrey S. (July 2006). "Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea". Polar Biology 29 (8) (Berlin: Springer). pp. 681–687. doi:10.1007/s00300-005-0105-2. 
  10. ^ a b c d Greenfieldboyce, Nell (10 August 2011). "Polar Bear Scientist Faces New Questions". NPR. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  11. ^ Efstathiou, Jim (28 July 2011). "Scientist Who Reported Polar Bears Drowning Is Suspended by U.S. Agency". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "Report on Dead Polar Bears Gets a Biologist Suspended". New York Times. July 28, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Why is a scientist at an offshore oil agency under investigation?". Alaska Dispatch. July 28, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  14. ^ "BOEMRE: Director says offshore oil agency not on 'witch hunt'". Alaska Dispatch. July 30, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Climate change money should go to armed services". Daily Express. 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  16. ^ a b "ARCTIC SCIENTIST PROTESTS WITCH HUNT ON POLAR BEAR PAPER". July 28, 2011. Retrieved August 14, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Interview of Charles Monnett". Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. February 23, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Federal polar bear scientist back on the job". Los Angeles Times. August 26, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Australian Scientists Protest". Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. August 16, 2011. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Comments on the Department of the Interior proposed scientific integrity policy". Union of Concerned Scientists. September 20, 2010. Retrieved September 24, 2011. 
  21. ^ Bohrer, Becky (August 12, 2011). "Arctic scientist's complaint being reviewed". Yahoo News. Associated Press. Retrieved August 14, 2011. 
  22. ^ http://www.peer.org/assets/docs/noaa/10_1_12_Monnett_reprimand.pdf
  23. ^ "Polar bear science". New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 

External links[edit]

  • Polar Biology article on polar bear mortality by Monnett