Department of Energy Misconduct

tl;dr: The firing of Dr. Noelle Metting wasn’t just about budget, but to oppose nuclear energy.

A recently released report from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology outlines severe misconduct on the part of the management of the Department of Energy, specifically Dr. Todd Anderson and Dr. Sharlene Weatherwax within the DOE Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research Program.

The full background can be read in the report linked above; to summarize, a briefing for “staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources” was organized regarding the Low Dose Radiation Research Program: existing research into the effects of low dosages of radiation on humans. The reason for the briefing was newly introduced legislation, H.R.5544 — Low-Dose Radiation Research Act of 2014 (HR5544).

At the briefing, on 10/16/2014:

[… T]he following DOE employees were in attendance: Dr. Noelle Metting, Dr. Todd Anderson, Dr. Julie Carruthers, Dr. Marcos Huerta, and staff within DOE Congressional Affairs.

Later, (Oct. 2015) the staff learned that Dr. Metting had been removed from her position, evidently in retaliation for providing information Drs. Anderson and Weatherwax had instructed her to hide, including the slide shown above, which she was specifically instructed to remove. (Note that the yellow highlighting is mine, see below.)

In late 2015, Dr. Metting and her attorneys contacted the Committee providing an account of events that transpired after the October 16, 2014, briefing, including her removal from federal service by the DOE. According to Dr. Metting’s counsel, DOE Management removed Dr. Metting from her position for allegedly providing too much information in response to questions posed by Congressional staff during the October 16 briefing. […] The Committee also became aware in early 2015 (based on the DOE fiscal year 2016 budget request), that the DOE proposed to shutter the LDRRP in order to increase funding for other programs within the Biological and Environmental Research budget line, including bioenergy research and climate modeling in furtherance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. [emphasis mine]

A hearing was held, wherein Dr. Metting testified about “being fired by DOE, and suffering long months of unemployment, that occurred as a direct outcome of [her] participation in a briefing for Congressional Staff.

On September 21, 2016, the Subcommittees on Oversight and Energy of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a joint hearing titled “Examining Misconduct and Intimidation of Scientists by Senior DOE Officials.” The hearing examined actions by senior DOE officials to withhold information from Congress during the legislative process and to intimidate Dr. Metting from disclosing supportive evidence for H.R. 5544.

Evidently, they had some trouble getting access to required emails (see the report).

The conclusions were pretty severe:

A. The DOE Exhibited a Complete Disregard for the Legislative Process and Constitutional Separation of Powers at an Institutional Level.


B. The DOE Must Overhaul its Management Practices to Ensure that the Department Carries out its Constitutional Responsibilities to be Truthful with Congress and Respects the Legislative Process.

In all this, the stated intent in forbidding Dr. Metting from giving the staff the full information they required, including the instruction to remove the offending slide, was to “increase funding for other programs […]”.

This is pointed up in item 4 of the findings from the Press Release:

4. DOE management worked to kill the LDRRP because it did not further the administration’s goals to advance climate research

It’s also replicated in many of the news items covering this issue (e.g. here, here, here, here, etc.) We should note that only a handful of “conservative” news sites covered it, a Google search found nothing from the major “Mainstream” media.

But what’s missing from even the sparse coverage it got is the deeper agenda: an effort to block nuclear energy, including research into newer forms of same.

In the slide above, I’ve highlighted one particular line item:

It may not be clear how important this item is. Nuclear energy plays an important role in efforts to reduce our culture’s reliance on fossil fuels, partly for the very “climate” agenda funds were supposedly being grabbed for.

How important depends on just how fearsome radiation is.

The very fact that radiation damage can produce mutations and other damage to future human generations is enough to make it an object of fear. To which we must add, at least in men, the instinctive fear of any form of harm to the genitals.

But what most people don’t understand is that humans are always being subjected to radiation, and the addition a one-time exposure, say from a nuclear accident, will almost always be little more than you get from a party in the wrong basement.

Current exposure regulations for radiation are set by the EPA, based on old, and outdated, methods of assessing risk. And what the investigation turned up is that there was collusion between DOE and EPA management to kill HR5544. From an email exchange between Dr. Weatherwax and Dr. Marcos Huerta, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Science, U.S. Dep’t. of Energy:

Marcos, this is the program that Pete Lyons has always been keeping track of and asking about, because he started the program many years ago and believes its continuation is essential for the future of [the Office of Nuclear Energy]. So whenever there’s a public meeting, etc the NE community is reminded of it, and asks about it. Right now there is proposed legislation referring to this that is asking for engagement of the national academy, and development of a plan, etc.

But in terms of our program priorities, we feel we have accumulated sufficient research results to inform EPA’s regulatory process. EPA has indicated that they do not require additional research information that would cause them to overturn their current regulatory limits, which are based on the extremely conservative Linear No Threshold (LNT) theory.

Basically what this says is that the EPA doesn’t want anybody looking, because they might find something that would force them to produce regulations making it easier to build nuclear power plants.

Let me repeat the key sentence: “EPA has indicated that they do not require additional research information that would cause them to overturn their current regulatory limits, which are based on the extremely conservative […] (LNT) theory.

This strikes me as more than just wanting to grab funding for another project. Rather, it would appear that certain managers within the DOE and EPA are collaborating to keep obsolete regulations in place that interfere with building new nuclear power plants, as well as research and development into new types of nuclear power.

And they’re doing it (partly) by blocking research into the actual danger (if any) involved in properly set up nuclear energy.

A recent research paper, Destroying the Linear No-threshold Basis for Radiation Regulation, A Commentary said:

Scientifically, the linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis of radiation damage is dead. The LNT hypothesis assumes no repair of radiation damage, that such damage is a function of the total radiation dose regardless of the rate at which the radiation is received, that all such radiations are harmful down to zero dose, but the lower the dose the less likely the harm, and that one such radiation event on DNA can cause a fatal cancer. To refute these ideas, to date over 150 genes have been recognized so far that are involved in defense of the organism against noxious agents, including radiation, and on October 8, 2015, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for discovering mechanisms of DNA repair. This dispels the LNT assumption of no repair. [emphasis mine]

Even Wikipedia agrees that there’s scientific controversy over it.

If the goal is actually to transition our culture off of fossil fuels, this doesn’t make sense.

Indeed, the grabbing of funding strikes me as only an excuse: the real intent is to keep prohibitive regulations against nuclear power in place by quietly suppressing research that will probably demonstrate that the danger has been overhyped.

In response to the election of Mr. Trump, we have a “Mainstream” media full of stories about scientists being afraid of government pressure on research for political agendas, but here we have an egregious example of the same behavior under the Obama administration, clearly pursuing a different agenda than the claimed “climate”.

We can hope the incoming administration will widely expose this example of bureaucratic misbehavior and correct it. Along with any other examples it finds.

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