The Heat Is Online

Michaels Out As Virginia State Climatologist

Controversial state climatologist steps down


Newport News (Va.) Daily Press, The Associated Press, Sept. 27, 2007


Virginia's state climatologist, whose doubts about global warming and utility-industry funding made him a lightning rod on climate change issues, quietly left his position over the summer.

Patrick J. Michaels, who had held the position since 1980, will remain as a part-time research professor on leave at the University of Virginia, Joseph C. Zieman, chairman of the school's Department of Environmental Sciences, told The Daily Progress of Charlottesville.

Michaels has been a leading skeptic of global-warming theories. While he believes global warming is real and influenced by humans, he contends it primarily is caused by natural forces.

That view caused Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office to ask Michaels last year to refrain from using his title when conducting non-state business because of fears his views would be perceived as an official state position.

The governor's office said Michaels, who was appointed by former Gov. John N. Dalton, was not a gubernatorial appointee, contending his office had become U.Va.' s domain in 2000.

Michaels, 57, called his resignation a sad result of the fact that his state climatologist funding had become politicized, compromising his academic freedom.

"It's very simple," he said. "I don't think anybody was able to come to a satisfactory agreement about academic freedom."

George F. Allen, a friend of Michaels, twice intervened on matters involving funding for Michaels' office, once as governor and again as a U.S. senator.

In 1994, Allen restored a cut of more than $100,000 to Michaels' office that had been proposed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Eight years later, as a senator, Allen rescued Michaels' office from other proposed cuts that Michaels said would have wiped out his entire funding.

Democrats, top scientists and environmental advocates also have maintained that Michaels' reliance on large utility company contributions for private research was a conflict of interest.

Last summer, The Associated Press reported that a Colorado utility raised at least $150,000 in donations and pledges to help Michaels analyze global-warming research by other scientists.

In July, Michaels withdrew as an expert witness for the auto industry in a high-profile case in Vermont federal court rather than disclose his funding sources. He said he was hired by the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and that his donors had information they wanted to remain confidential.

"Global warming science is a controversial area, and those who do not believe that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will inevitably result in extreme climatologic outcomes are often subject to public attack," Michaels stated in an affidavit to the court.

The state climatologist's office provides information and conducts research on the impact of weather and climate on economic and ecological systems.

U.Va. spokesman Fariss Samarrai said Jerry Stenger, who has worked in the climatology office for more than two decades, took over Michaels' duties, just not his title as state climatologist.

Michaels said he will continue to work at the libertarian-conservative Cato Institute in Washington, where he works while on leave from U.Va.

"I feel I can speak more freely," he said.

Copyright © 2007, Newport News,Va., Daily Press


UVa hands off duties of climatologist, Sept. 27, 2007

The University of Virginia has handed the duties of the climatologists office, but not the title, to research coordinator Philip J. Jerry Stenger in the wake of climatologist Patrick J. Michaels quiet departure from the role, UVa officials said Wednesday.

Jerry Stenger is overseeing the universitys climatology office, said Carol Wood, UVas assistant vice president for public affairs.

We no longer call it a state climatology office, Wood said. We do not have an acting state climatologist.

Delacey Skinner, Gov. Timothy M. Kaines communications director, said Wednesday that whether the office that Michaels vacated continues to receive state funding in the governors budget is one of many decisions Kaine will make before his budget announcement to legislative money committees on Dec. 17.

Stenger, a 25-year veteran of the office, said he is happy doing the work and continuing as a research scientist.

My understanding is that, traditionally, at least part of the budget is a directly earmarked piece of [state budget] money for the office and the rest of it has been made up by the dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, he said.

Its been made clear to me that theres a lot of support for keeping the office as an integral part of the Department [of Environmental Sciences], he said.

My goal is to carry on the office and its many objectives, and even manage to enhance it, Stenger said.

James N. Galloway, a longtime professor and acid rain researcher, said the department views the work of the climatology office as important and Stengers role as crucial to it.

Jerry, in my impression, is the guy who made that office work, Galloway said. He is so service oriented. He made the climatology office more receptive to the needs of the commonwealth.

Galloway said Michaels, whose utility industry funding, private research and controversial views on global warming made him a lightning rod on climate change issues, left the office too politicized.

Its too bad it was so politicized, but I think we can get beyond that, Galloway said.

Stenger, 52, is conducting research into air quality in the Shenandoah Valley and is proposing that the office join a multi-state study of drought and other water-related issues in the Mid-Atlantic.

Area legislators said the climatology office provides useful services to farmers and many others throughout the state.

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, was an environmental sciences and history major at UVa and said the office still performs an important role for climate information.

Del. Bill Janis, R-Short Pump, said that UVa ought to be in the forefront of studying global climate change.

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, added that he believes with all the concerns about climate change, there is a legitimate state role in how climate change can aff
ect Virginia.