The Interior Department and science: Congress steps up the pressure


Author: Brandon Middleton

The last week has seen the Interior Department face numerous questions from members of Congress regarding scientific determinations made under the Endangered Species Act.  Last Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight conducted a hearing on the role of science in ESA determinations, at which Assistant U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Gary Frazer stated that Interior's Office of Science Integrity would conduct an independent investigation of the federal delta smelt scientists found by Judge Wanger to have engaged in bad faith.

Yesterday, the House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing titled "Questionable Fish Science and Environmental Lawsuits: Jobs and Water Supplies at Risk in the Inland Empire."  This hearing mainly addressed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's December 2010 Santa Ana sucker critical habitat designation, in addition to the delta smelt smelt controversy.

But scrutiny is being paid not just to the Interior Department.  Also yesterday, Senators David Vitter and James Inhofe and Representative Darrell Issa sent this letter to White House Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren, pointing out issues that have arisen at Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.  The letter states that "[p]ublic trust in federal scientific work is waning" and requests that Dr. Holdren provide "an accounting of [his] activities in response to serious questions raised about the quality of science used by this Administration."  The congressmen also issued this press release.

It's not yet clear what the result of the above developments will be.  Clearly, though, elected officials are troubled by the recent news over federal agency decision-making.