Trump taps Ac­cuWeather ex­ec­u­tive to head NOAA

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By Ja­son Sa­menow

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.

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