17. NATIONAL PARKS:
2 scientists urge Supreme Court to take up oyster case
Emily Yehle, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, May 19, 2014
The Supreme Court should take up an oyster farm’s fight against the Interior Department because the case offers an opportunity to ensure federal courts have the jurisdiction to reject false science, two scientists who have criticized Interior in the past argue in an amicus brief filed Friday.
The friend-of-the-court brief was one of several filed in support of the farm’s petition to get its case reviewed by the Supreme Court. Drakes Bay Oyster Co. is challenging Interior’s 2012 decision not to renew its operating permit in Point Reyes National Seashore (Greenwire, April 14).
Scientists Corey Goodman and Paul Houser teamed up to write a 32-page brief that argues that the Supreme Court should take the case “to make clear that the courts can, and should, remedy scientific misconduct.” Goodman is a venture capitalist who is part of the National Academy of Sciences, while Houser is a hydrology professor who formerly worked for Interior.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of Interior, holding that the agency acted within its authority in declining to renew the farm’s lease. But in their brief, Goodman and House argue that the appeals court “threw up its hands at the science” by saying it lacked jurisdiction to review the science in an environmental impact statement on the farm.
“The panel’s decision, if allowed to stand, creates a dangerous precedent,” they argue. “If courts lack jurisdiction to review claims that agency decisions are based on scientific misconduct, and if courts are required to forgive scientific misconduct whenever an agency makes assurances that the misconduct was immaterial, then agencies are likely to feel less constrained about falsifying scientific information to the courts and the public. This decision is likely to result in more scientific misconduct in government decisions, and thus undermine our democracy.”
Both men have accused Interior of scientific misconduct, only to meet with frustration. Goodman has accused the National Park Service of manipulating and falsifying scientific data in a bid to oust the oyster farm. Houser, a hydrometeorologist, has said Interior misrepresented science to exaggerate the benefits of the controversial removal of Klamath River Basin dams.
Goodman’s experience with NPS is laid out in detail. Most recently, the U.S. Geological Survey published a report that misrepresented a biologist’s findings, lending support to NPS claims that the oyster farm disturbs nearby seals. Goodman alleged scientific misconduct one year ago, but Interior has not yet responded to his complaint (Greenwire, May 14, 2013).
In Houser’s case, a panel convened by Interior found that the agency didn’t commit scientific misconduct but instead “false precision” in a press release. House was fired after voicing criticism of the release; he later settled a whistleblower complaint with the agency (Greenwire, March 27, 2013).
Click here to read the brief.
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