Monday, April 04, 2011

The State Education Department Bars a Knowledgeable Employee From Talking About Gas Drilling

Recently I highlighted the thoughts of Taury Smith, New York state's official geologist and self described liberal democrat. In an article posted at the Times Union Mr. Smith argued that the "spin was on" with regard to hydraulic fracturing. He argued that years of research did not support the rhetoric being presented by the opponents of "hydrofracking." That the cited problems are exaggerated and overblown. That true environmentalists should be in strong support of the increased use of natural gas as it is overall much better for the environment than coal and oil.

He of course committed the cardinal sin of liberalism and thought for himself. Predictably this has put him in some hot water with environmentalists. The course of action is not to debate the facts, but instead smear the messenger. Within four days of the original article voices of opposition have their say.

David Braun:
"Smith is clearly in the pocket of the gas industry and has spread the view in muliple email letters. It doesn't take a rocket scientist; I am aware that when somebody is getting money from an industry it does sway opinion." (This is an outright lie. Mr. Smith is an unpaid consultant, but facts aren't the point.)
Stephanie Low:
"He works from the gas industry, so it might be extremely difficult for him to notice that most of his statements are not supported by facts. Perhaps he doesn't read the (New York) Times.
Mrs Low of course works as a manager of a classical musician so her authority on this matter is suspect at best. She reads the NYT so her ego supersedes her intellect.

While character assassination is the predictable outcome for someone speaking out of turn, the tragic irony here is that the Mr. Smith has been silenced by the New York State Department of Education. This is the department that oversees the New York State Museum geology unit that is now prohibiting Mr. Smith from speaking with reporters, or take calls on the matter.

You should definitely read the whole article.

An editorial in today's Times Union takes note of the hypocrisy. In "A Bad Lesson in Censorship" the editorial board takes issue with the silencing of political opponents noting that New York state has been down this road before, only the political arguments were reversed, with profoundly different reactions.

We don't particularly agree with Mr. Smith on a few key points, either. But shutting down an informed voice is absolutely the wrong thing for the government to do, and for environmentalists to support, if only in their failure to denounce it.

As the Times Union's James M. Odato found, Mr. Smith has been forbidden to talk to reporters since he spoke out on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process of extracting natural gas that the energy industry wants to employ in the vast Marcellus Shale formation that lies under six states.

We and many others have expressed concern about potential problems, including drinking water contamination. No permits have been issued in New York while the state Department of Environmental Conservation works on regulations and the federal Environmental Protection Agency studies the practice of hydrofracking.

Mr. Smith in an interview last month spoke positively of the Marcellus Shale's natural gas as a "huge gift" and characterized reports of water contamination as exaggerated and distorted.

He called for vigorous oversight of hydrofracking by the DEC and said natural gas could help relieve global warming and reliance on dirtier-burning fuels like coal.

Hydrofracking opponents, such as Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club and United for Action, objected, with some suggesting that Mr. Smith's opinion is tainted because of his private work as an energy industry consultant.

The blowback apparently has made the Education Department uncomfortable enough to cite a protocol that requires employees to check with the agency's communications office before talking to reporters, or face "appropriate administrative action." The agency said it's looking into Mr. Smith's private work, too.

We've been down this unfortunate road before. The state's former wildlife biologist, Ward Stone, endured official intimidation, including a threat of transfer, for his dogged pursuit of pollution. He was an important voice on issues like the state's own now-defunct trash incinerator in downtown Albany, where his tests found evidence of pollution in residential neighborhoods. Environmentalists protested the state's attempts to silence him.

Not here, though. They're content to let a scientist they disagree with be gagged.

They should join us instead in calling on Education Commissioner David Steiner and the Board of Regents to relax their stifling policies and let public employees contribute to important public discussions without checking with official handlers. This debate should be all about finding the truth, not winning even at the cost of it.

(Bold by me)
Other outlets are beginning to take note.

From the New York Post 4/3/11

Choose your public words carefully if you work for the State Education Department, and take special care not to cross liberal interest groups — it could land you in hot water.

That’s the lesson Dr. Langhorne “Taury” Smith is learning after he dared to speak honestly about what he says are the “exaggerated” dangers of hydrofracking, the controversial process for extracting natural gas.

New York’s noxious Green Machine prevailed on the Legislature to ban the process (no other state in the country does so). Though then-Gov. David Paterson correctly vetoed the ban, he declared a “moratorium” that has the same effect by executive order.

Merryl Tisch
Merryl Tisch

Last month, Smith gave an interview in which he said the hydrofracking controversy has been a financial gold mine for the greenies, who’ve raised tons of cash by spreading scare stories about the process. (His remarks were also quoted in a Post editorial.)

And the moment geologist Smith weighed in, the anti-frackers struck — abetted by the State Education Department.

Environmental activists blasted his “irresponsible statement” and suggested that he “works for the gas industry” because he’s done outside work as a consultant, though not for any companies seeking to drill in upstate Marcellus Shale.

That led SED to take a closer look at his outside work, promising “swift action as appropriate,” according to an upstate newspaper.

Smith, you see, officially works for the New York State Museum, which means he’s on SED’s payroll. And officials there quickly muzzled him, refusing to let him speak to the press, while launching their official investigation.

Investigation of what, you ask?

Well, failure to pre-clear a news media interview with the department’s Office of Communications, which could subject Smith, an 11-year SED veteran, to “appropriate administrative action.”

This is ridiculous on its face; department experts talk to journalists all the time, without sanctions or silencing.

Now the department is reportedly refusing to make Smith available to the press, even barring him from taking phone calls.

We don’t know if Education Commissioner David Steiner and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch approve of what looks increasingly like a witch hunt.

But they call the shots in the Education Department, and they can end the harassment whenever they want.

Immediately sounds about right.

With a flare for rhetorical flourish Reason - Hit and Run picks up the story.

Linked at Legal Insurrection, thanks Professor!
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1 comment:

  1. Nice article you shared with your readers, Taury Smith is knowledgeable person and have knowledge about all things. I am regular reader of you blog.