Trump taps AccuWeather executive to head NOAA
Barry Myers, the chief executive of the private weather forecasting company AccuWeather, is President Donald Trump’s pick to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The appointment of Myers, a businessman and lawyer, breaks from the recent precedent of scientists leading the agency tasked with a large, complex and technically demanding portfolio.
The agency oversees the National Weather Service, conducts and funds weather and climate research, and operates a constellation of weather satellites as well as a climate data center. It also has critical responsibilities in monitoring and protecting the nation’s coasts, oceans and fisheries.
Myers’ supporters say he brings valuable experience from the private sector that will help NOAA advance its capabilities.
“[I]n an Administration that places high value on business acumen, Barry brings a strong track record in growing one of the most successful companies in the weather industry,” said Ray Ban, co-chairman of the Weather Coalition, an advocacy group for strengthening America’s weather industry across sectors.
But others are concerned about his potential conflicts of interest and lack of science background.
As NOAA administrator, Myers would be in charge of the Weather Service whose data are heavily used by his family business, based in State College, Pa.
AccuWeather has, in the past, supported measures to limit the extent to which the Weather Service can release information to the public, so that private companies could generate their own value-added products using this same information. In 2005, for example, Myers and his brother Joel gave money to then-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services.
“Barry Myers defines ‘conflict of interest,’ ” said Ciaran Clayton, who was communications director at NOAA in the Obama administration. “He actively lobbied to privatize the National Weather Service, which works day in and day out to protect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, to benefit his own company’s bottom line.”
Myers’ appointment is strongly opposed by the labor union for the National Weather Service, the NWS Employees Organization, for this reason. “As NOAA administrator, he would be in a position to fundamentally alter the nature of weather services that NOAA provides the nation, to the benefit of his family-owned business,” said Richard Hirn, a spokesperson for the union.
His supporters believe he will be able to apply his business savvy to help NOAA better leverage assets in the commercial sector.
“Myers will bring that Big Data acumen to NOAA and likely accelerate a process that has slowly been underway: more private-sector collaboration with satellite data, weather models and other information services,” said Ryan Maue, a weather model product developer for Weather. us, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Richard Spinrad, NOAA’s chief scientist in the Obama administration, expressed some reservations about Myers’ lack of science background but said his business background “could serve him well” since NOAA is housed in the Department of Commerce.
One of the big unknowns about Myers is his position on climate change. He has made no known public statements on the issue.
AccuWeather’s stated position on climate change, while not inconsistent with existing scientific assessments, is vague. “Global climate change is a matter of intense concern and public importance,” it begins. “There can be little doubt that human beings influence the world’s climate. At the same time, our knowledge of the extent, progress, mechanisms and results of global climate change is still incomplete.”
Marshall Shepherd, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, said he is willing to give Myers “the benefit of the doubt” if he is “a stronger leader on climate change and an advocate for the National Weather Service.”
The jury is out.