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President Trump today nominated Barry Myers, the head of the private company AccuWeather, to be chief of NOAA.
This pick will likely accelerate the shift at NOAA from government-built weather satellites to buying the product from the private sector, a shift that NOAA has strongly resisted so far. The article above illustrates that resistance, as it immediately gives space to the naysayers.
But some scientists worry that Myers’ ties to AccuWeather could present conflicts of interest, and note that Myers has no direct experience with the agency’s broader research portfolio, which includes the climate, oceans and fisheries. “I think the science community has real cause for concern,” says Andrew Rosenberg, head of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Rosenberg notes that Myers was an early proponent of carving out a larger role for the private sector in providing weather services. And in 2005, while Myers served as executive vice president and general counsel, AccuWeather lobbied for legislation to prevent the National Weather Service from competing with private firms in providing products including basic weather forecasting. “Is he going to recuse himself from decisions which might potentially be of interest to his company down the road?” asks Rosenberg.
I am not surprised that the Union of Concerned Scientists opposes this shift. They have been a big government, centralized-control advocate for decades. The simple fact is, however, that a lot of money is made predicting the weather. There is no reason the government should be paying for these satellites and providing this service free. If the government didn’t do it, the private weather companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel would quickly take over, because — like television networks and communications companies — they need the satellites for their businesses.
Would the data be as available for scientists doing climate research? Maybe in the beginning the private companies would be reluctant to release what to them is proprietary data. As more competing companies got their satellites launched, however, the competition would force them all to make their data available for research, and researchers would end up with more data, not less.