Maue’s move was confirmed by two NOAA officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on personnel matters.
Maue joins climate skeptic David Legates, a meteorologist who claims that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is good for plants and that global warming is harmless. Earlier this week, Legates was moved from NOAA to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as executive director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, overseeing 13 federal agencies that study global warming.
The two men will oversee the program to run the congressionally mandated National Climate Assessment, a report that is issued every five years. Last week, the White House abruptly removed the career climate scientist who ran the climate assessment for the past five years, Michael Kuperberg.
Both Legates and Maue joined NOAA in September. Each is keeping his NOAA title while working on the climate report. According to one of the NOAA officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, it is generally understood that Legates and Maue will help select authors for the next edition of the National Climate Assessment, which examines climate change damage and includes projections for the United States, down to regional and local levels.
The report provides information to those navigating the rapidly changing climate, from city officials seeking to build new sewage treatment plants to farmers gauging how shifting rains could affect which crops to plant.
It’s unclear how much headway Maue and Legates can make in shaping the next report, since the bulk of the work is expected to be completed after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Federal scientists, environmental groups, and lawmakers fear the duo could derail and set back the climate assessment before President Trump leaves office. But several previous U.S. Global Change Research Program leaders and scientists have stressed that checks and balances built into its governance should limit lasting damage.
For example, the selection of chapter authors must be approved by a subcommittee for Global Change Research, composed of senior career and political leaders at the 13 member agencies. In addition, the report goes through multiple stages of peer review, including by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.
“If they manage to ram through the selection of authors that are crazy, there’s nothing in the system that says they can’t be changed” when the Biden administration takes control, said one scientist who worked for the research program, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. If the new leadership attempted to create a completely new process for developing the climate assessment, “it would require acquiescence of all these agencies."
Several former officials at the research program have said it would be very difficult to implement substantial changes in just 75 days before Biden is sworn in, given the slow speed at which the federal bureaucracy operates.
While Maue and Legates may serve only until Jan. 20, a mainstream climate scientist, Betsy Weatherhead, was recently assigned the formal role of facilitating the climate assessment through its completion in 2023.
While Legates’s views on climate run counter to the scientific consensus that human activities — primarily the burning of fossil fuels — are causing major warming and irreversible damage to the planet, Maue’s are closer to the mainstream consensus.
However, Maue has questioned what he calls alarmist climate findings showing the effects of global warming will be catastrophic, particularly when it comes to linking extreme weather events and climate change. Maue and Legates have consistently argued that more emphasis should be placed on uncertainty in climate modeling projections, despite the peer-reviewed studies showing that models have accurately captured historical climate trends and warming-to-date.
Ten percent of the planet has already warmed by 2 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution started trapping large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Formerly a developer of weather modeling websites, Maue holds a PhD in meteorology. He is broadly respected for his weather knowledge, but his views on climate change are much more controversial.
Maue has been sharply criticized by some in the atmospheric science community for inflammatory tweets that have attacked scientists and politicians who have sounded the alarm about the effects of global warming on extreme weather. He deleted many of those tweets after joining the federal government.
It’s unusual that Maue, as NOAA’s chief scientist, would be detailed to another office, given the wide portfolio of that position. Past NOAA chief scientists include Richard Spinrad, an oceanographer, and former astronaut and subsequent NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan.
Maue declined to comment for this article, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said it does not comment on personnel matters.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, a climate contrarian close to the administration, confirmed Legates’s and Maue’s moves in an interview Thursday. “They’re going to try to get as much done in the time that they possibly can,” he said.
Heartland Institute President James Taylor, whose group disputes scientific findings that human activity is helping warm the Earth and who has advised top Trump environmental officials, said in an interview Friday that conservatives welcomed the staff changes but wished they had come sooner.
He noted it was “ironic” that many outside of government attributed the findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in 2018, to “Trump’s own people, when the people who were populating that assessment were holdovers from the Obama administration.”
The authors of that report included dozens of outside scientists unaffiliated with the government, and its findings lined up with those of other independent assessments conducted in other parts of the world and by some states. Heartland and other groups had urged the Trump administration to install scientists who shared their views, Taylor said, but nothing happened.
“This is a topic, oftentimes, when Republicans mistakenly believe they should not be engaging, or they should be presenting what could be seen as an environmentally friendly face,” he said.
Taylor added that he did not doubt Trump’s commitment to changing the way the federal government assesses climate science, but that not all White House staffers shared those views.
“These decisions often don’t make it up to the president himself,” he said. “They are often made a step or two below him.”