Kaine, UVa differ on climatologist
Sides disagree on whether Michaels is appointed
The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress, August 8, 2006
It may be an inconvenient truth for some that Patrick J. Michaels, Virginias state climatologist, is not subject to gubernatorial appointment - or political removal from office.
Michaels, whose utility industry funding and controversial views on global warming often spark controversy, holds an honorary position and does not speak for the state or the governor, according to Gov. Timothy M. Kaines office.
Michaels, state climatologist since 1980, is not a gubernatorial appointee, said Delacey Skinner, Kaines director of communications.
Kaine considers him a professor at the University of Virginia and the head of the Virginia State Climatology Office, Skinner said Monday in response to inquiries about whether the governor would reappoint him as climatologist.
Generally, it is safe to say that Pat Michaels doesnt represent the governors opinion on global warming, she said.
He doesnt speak for the state. He doesnt speak for the governor, she said. This is the University of Virginia having this particular faculty member head up their office of climatology.
A UVa spokesman, however, said Monday that Michaels remains a gubernatorial appointee as well as a research faculty member.
The position of state climatologist is a gubernatorial appointment, said Jeffrey G. Hanna, senior director of university relations. He produced copies of Michaels letter of appointment on July 8, 1980, by then-Gov. John N. Dalton and of professor Bruce P. Hayden as acting state climatologist by then-Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. on July 13, 1977.
While he serves as state climatologist, Michaels also is a research professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences where he is reviewed by the promotion and tenure committee about every three years, Hanna said. His last three-year review was successfully completed this last spring, at which time he was renewed for another three years.
Hanna said the state climatologist position is not ceremonial. & The state climatologist produces data and reports for the commonwealth and its citizens. This includes drought predictions for crops as well as work with state emergency agencies in the cases of, say, hurricanes or winter storms.
Michaels is also well known as a critic of scientists who warn about man-made effects of global warming, and he has written that man-made causes of global warming are real but outweighed by other, natural, causes.
Michaels has held the state climatologist position 26 years perhaps without intervening appointments by Virginias governors or a section of the Code of Virginia authorizing the position of state climatologist, Skinner said.
Our research indicates its an honorary thing, Kevin Hall, Kaines press secretary, said of Michaels title.
Hall said Michaels gained the title in 1980 as the result of a memorandum of understanding signed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Dalton administration. The state climatologist is not a gubernatorial appointee in the Code [of Virginia], Hall said.
UVa announced his appointment in 1980 in a news release. The July 24 release 26 years ago said that Dalton appointed him.
Later, George Allen, a friend of Michaels, twice came to his aid in state budget wrangles.
In 1994, as governor, Allen restored a cut to the State Climatology Office of more than $100,000 proposed by his predecessor, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
Eight years later as a U.S. senator, Allen rescued Michaels office from other proposed cuts when the climatologist said his office faced the loss of half its $113,000 budget in 2003 and 100 percent of it in 2004.
Allen, considered Michaels political godfather, acknowledged making calls on the offices behalf and said through a spokesman that Michaels track record as an environmental scientist, especially one using sound science rather than political science, made the difference.
Michaels could not be reached for comment Monday.
Some Democrats said Michaels reliance on large power company contributions for private research presents the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The work that he publishes as state climatologist under the current wisdom on his Web site seems to be very closely associated with the work that the power companies are paying him to do, said Kevin Lynch, a Democrat on Charlottesvilles City Council. That needs to be seriously looked at, but does the university look at it or the governor?