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CEO DATELINE – AGU criticized for giving award to Sen. Gardner

Dec. 6, 2018
By Walt Williams

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The American Geophysical Union is under fire from some of its members for awarding Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) the group’s Presidential Citation for Science and Society. Critics of the award cited Gardner’s past reluctance to embrace climate-change science and his votes against many policies favored by environmental groups.

AGU recently announced that Gardner and Sen. Gary Peter (D-Mich.) would be given presidential citations, which are awarded to leaders who advance Earth and space science.  However, more than 250 people—almost all scientists who say they are AGU members—signed a petition protesting the choice of Gardner as a recipient.

The petitioners pointed to his refusal to vote for an amendment to a 2015 bill concerning the Keystone XL pipeline that would have added language stating that human activity was the primary cause of climate change. They also pointed to his 10 percent lifetime voting score by the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that tracks how members of Congress vote on legislation dealing with energy, pollution and conservation.

“In rewarding Senator Gardner with this high honor, the AGU is sending a dangerous message—that policymakers are free to pick and choose scientific facts that serve their political agendas, and disregard those that do not,” the petition states.

AGU members include scientists who study climate change and the group supports using scientific findings to inform public policy. In a blog post on the association’s website, AGU elected President Eric Davidson and CEO Christine McEntee defended giving the award to Peters and Gardner, noting their sponsorship of a 2017 bill restructuring how governmental agencies fund scientific research.

“Balancing the need to encourage broad bipartisan support for science in general and to address specific, critical scientific issues like climate change is an issue of concern for all of us, and one that we take very seriously,” Davidson and McEntee said. “This is a complex and important strategic consideration for our organization, and we are discussing what AGU’s path forward should be.”

Gardner didn’t touch on the controversy in a statement issued by his office Thursday. He called the presidential citation “a true honor.”

“Solutions for our most serious issues, such as climate change, will require bipartisan action and resolve, and I look forward to continuing to work with the American Geophysical Union to tackle and promote research on issues like climate change, natural hazards and space,” Gardner said.

The controversy comes as AGU gears up for its annual fall meeting, which will be held this year in Washington, D.C., starting Dec. 10. The association has been accused previously by members of being too friendly with climate-change skeptics and fossil fuel interests. The group was criticized in 2016 for allowing ExxonMobil to sponsor its fall meeting. AGU’s board of directors twice voted to retain the oil company as a sponsor, but later ExxonMobil pulled out on its own.