Faced with a subpoena from a top House lawmaker investigating federal climate change research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has turned over about 100 emails written by its communications and policy staff.
The emails, sought by the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology for months as part of a probe by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) into the publication of a groundbreaking global warming study by NOAA scientists, are the Obama administration’s first compliance with a subpoena Smith issued in October.
Delivered Tuesday, they were written among the agency’s public affairs staff, the chief of staff and a top policy adviser between December 2014 and June, when the study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
The emails have not been made public. But according to NOAA officials, they covered routine communications strategy for publicizing the paper, which refuted the long-held notion of a global warming ‘pause.’
The research was a bombshell in the climate world that undercut a key argument of climate-change skeptics such as Smith. NOAA staff “was aware that the study would be noteworthy and be the focus of scrutiny and debate,” NOAA spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton said in an interview.
She said none of the emails show communications about the “substance or timing” of the research by a team led by Tom Karl, the chief allegation raised by Smith. The Texas Republican has accused Karl and his team of altering historical climate data and “rushing” their study to publication to advance what he has called President Obama’s “extreme climate agenda.”
“The documents…discuss the routine mechanics of a communications plan for the paper.” Clayton said in a statement. “They include discussions that show NOAA front office staff was aware that the study was particularly noteworthy and would likely be the focus of scrutiny and debate.”
“At the same time, there is nothing in these materials that would support the notion that the substance or timing of the paper was politically motivated,” she said.
Smith said in a statement on the committee’s website that he is “encouraged by NOAA’s acknowledgment of its obligation to produce documents and communications in response to the Committee’s lawfully-issued subpoena.”
He also said he expects “additional productions from NOAA,” meaning another tranche of internal agency communications about the study.
Smith and NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan have been at loggerheads for months over the study and the chairman’s demands to see documents that he says will prove that its content and release were politically motivated. Sullivan has repeatedly refused to turn over internal emails among Karl and his team, saying that scientists’ deliberations are confidential and exempt from public disclosure.
Smith recently backed down from his demand for the scientists’ communications, but he widened the universe of emails he is seeking to a range of NOAA offices not staffed by scientists.