WASHINGTON – In his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday morning, Barry Myers, President Donald Trump's choice to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he agrees humans are the primary driver of recent climate change.
Myers' unambiguous acceptance of the human role in climate change marks a clean break from other members of the Trump administration, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Trump himself – all of whom have questioned the extent of human contributions.
Myers, the chief executive of the private weather forecasting company AccuWeather, was first questioned about the human contributions to climate change by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Markey asked Myers if he agreed with the climate science report released by 13 federal agencies earlier this month which stated it is "extremely likely" human activities are the dominant cause of recent climate warming. "I have no reason to disagree with the reports," Myers said.
Markey pressed Myers further. "So you agree humans are the main cause of climate change?" he asked. Myers responded, "Yes."
In a written response to questioning from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Myers also said he accepted the federal report and a supportive statement from the American Meteorological Society "as the current state of the articulated science."
Despite these authoritative reports, efforts to publicize climate change science research findings have been undermined at a number of federal agencies, likely reflecting the dismissive stance of their leadership. The EPA, for example, took down its climate change website and blocked researchers from presenting scientific results at a recent conference.
Sensitive to the issue of the suppression of science, several Democratic senators asked Myers if he would interfere with climate science research and its dissemination at NOAA. Myers was adamant that he would not as long as the work was peer-reviewed.
"I fully support the ability of scientists to do their work unfettered," Myers said in response to questioning from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
In his written response to similar questioning from Nelson, Myers said: "Quality, peer reviewed, scientific research, and the underlying data, to provide an ongoing narrative about our environment, which can offer the scientific basis for policy considerations and ongoing scientific discussion and advancement, are national assets that should be disseminated to the nation."
Myers's unqualified acceptance of mainstream climate change science represented the most surprising development at a hearing in which he faced predictable questioning about potential conflicts of interest. As NOAA administrator, Myers would be in charge of the National Weather Service whose data are heavily used by his family business.
AccuWeather has supported measures to limit the extent to which the Weather Service can release information to the public, so that private companies could generate and sell their own value-added products using this same information. In 2005, for example, Myers and his brother Joel Myers gave money to then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services.
Anticipating questioning about conflicts of interest, Myers said in his opening testimony that both he and his wife "will resign from every company, board and organization that could be in conflict with my new role. We have also agreed to sell all of our ownership interests – shares and options – in AccuWeather and all related companies."
"If confirmed, I will be joining a new team – I will be joining the NOAA Team," Myers said.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, expressed skepticism that Myers could fully separate himself from his family business, even if fully divested. "The challenge here is that your divestiture allows you to then make decisions within 90 days that could then benefit AccuWeather," Schatz said.
Myers replied that he had set up ground rules with his brother Joel Myers stipulating that at family gatherings "we can talk about football and family things but we cannot talk about NOAA."
Even so, Schatz wasn't completely convinced Myers would fully abandon team AccuWeather. "My question remains disposition-ally and maybe even ideologically that you haven't made the transition all the way to the government," he said. "You may have to rethink some of your most fundamental assumptions."