Interior Probe of Polar-Bear Scientist Buried with Settlement

December 4, 2013

As efforts to suppress science go, the Interior Department's dunking-stool investigation of scientist Charles Monnett was quite a story. Now, with a $100,000 settlement, it is a story that may never be fully told, including whether there was evidence of political interference by top Interior officials.

Charles Monnett was a biologist who worked for Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), who in 2006 published observations that polar bears were drowning in the Arctic because of ice retreat (presumably caused by climate change). In 2011, Interior's Inspector General started an investigation of Monnett for some kind of alleged misconduct — and then gave up the investigation (hailed by climate change deniers) for lack of merit or evidence. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower group which legally represented Monnett, formally charged then-director of BOEM Michael Bromwich with scientific integrity violations for allowing the probe. Monnett lodged a complaint to the U.S. Office of Special Council that Interior had violated his whistleblower rights when it faulted him for disclosing emails that showed Interior Department wrongdoing.

In the settlement, Monnett got $100,000 and retired. Interior reinstated a Cooperative Conservation Award which Monnett had won but which Interior had refused to give him. Interior withdrew the letter of reprimand it had issued to Monnett for disclosing emails showing Interior wrongdoing.

But the kicker was the cover-up. According to PEER: "Dr. Monnett withdrew a pending lawsuit and administrative appeal filed under the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act for documents relating to the IG investigation and the role of top BOEM officials."