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Reprimanded for Climate Change Work, Scientist Says

WASHINGTON (CN) - A scientist claims in court that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management refuses to release records on its reprimanding him for "circulating scientific information to scientific colleagues" about climate change.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Dr. Charles Monnett sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for records on BOEM's disciplinary action against Monnett.

They claim the agency investigated Monnett on suspicion of releasing government documents without authorization, in retaliation for his studies of climate change.

"Plaintiff Dr. Charles Monnett is a senior scientist with BOEM," the complaint states. "Dr. Monnett was the lead author of a peer-reviewed observational note published in a 2006 issue of the journal Polar Biology. Dr. Monnett's work stimulated public awareness of climate changes in the Arctic including the effects of sea ice loss. Since the time of the 2006 issue, the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General has forged an investigation into Dr. Monnett and reprimanded him for this work."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management manages the United States' natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf.

Monnett, an Arctic wildlife biologist, coordinated the agency's research on Arctic wildlife and ecology, including studies on the impact of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

In 2006, Monnett published an article that linked polar bear deaths in Alaska's Beaufort Sea to long-distance swimming due to sea ice regression.

The article, published in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology, documented four dead polar bears in the Arctic Ocean that Monnett and a colleague saw while conducting overflights in 2004 for a bowhead whale study.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited Monnett's study in its 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" also mentioned the article, portraying the polar bear as a symbol of climate change.

BOEM temporarily suspended Monnett in July 2011 during an investigation into "integrity issues," according to media reports.

"In a report of investigation concerning Dr. Charles Monnett by the Interior Office of Inspector General released on Sept. 28, 2012, there is a section concerning alleged unauthorized release of U.S. government documents," the complaint states. "These excerpts discuss reviews conducted by Minerals Management Service ('MMS') officials concerning Dr. Monnett. These officials were carried over into BOEM in their same capacities."

In November 2012, Monnett and his legal representative, the nonprofit watchdog Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, filed a FOIA request with BOEM headquarters in Washington and its Alaska office. They requested records on the agency's investigation, including internal review documents, emails and meeting notes concerning hundreds of FOIA exempt emails allegedly forwarded by Monnett to unauthorized recipients.

Among the records mentioned in the complaint are: "all written material including emails, and meeting notes reflecting the following: '[Monnett's supervisor Jeffery] Loman recalled that several BOEM managers were challenged by a few of its scientists, who asserted that the activity Shell proposed would constitute what the National Environmental Policy Act describes as "significant impact" to the environment ... Loman explained that the scientists' opposition was handled by BOEM managers through protracted conversations and email exchanges.'" (Ellipses in complaint).

The plaintiffs claim the agency delayed its response, and failed to release any information. They appealed, but received no records and no further correspondence.

They claim that "BOEM's conduct frustrates plaintiffs' efforts to shed light on why a respected senior scientist was reprimanded for circulating scientific information to scientific colleagues. BOEM's actions also frustrate plaintiffs' efforts to educate the public regarding the status of resource deterioration in the Arctic Ocean and the extent to which federal agencies are adequately monitoring such developments and infringe on Dr. Monnett's right to access information the BOEM maintains pertaining to him."

They want to see the documents.

They are represented by Kathryn Douglass, staff attorney with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

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