Tag Archives: Climate change

Making NIT More Productive, More Resilient

NIT

Norfolk International Terminal (NIT)

by James A. Bacon

For the millions of Virginians living above the fall line, the struggle that Hampton Roads has with rising sea levels and increasing flooding may seem remote and far away. Why should we care? After all, does anybody in Hampton Roads give a hoot about our problems?

Kit Chope, vice president of sustainability for the Virginia Port Authority, gave a pretty darn good reason this morning for why Virginians across the Commonwealth should take an interest in the region’s increasing vulnerability to storm surges and flooding: Anything that disrupts port operations disrupts the economy of the state. Some 530,000 jobs and 10% of the state’s gross domestic product are tied to port activities, he said.

“What affects the port affects the state,” said Chope in a panel discussion of the 2016 Resilient Virginia Conference, during which a major theme was the long-term threat that sea level rise and flooding poses to Hampton Roads.

Upstream Virginia has gotten the message. Included in the $2 billion bond package approved by the General Assembly in the 2016 session is $350 million to upgrade cargo-handling cranes at Norfolk International Terminal (NIT). The capital investment has been billed primarily as a response to growing cargo traffic and the need to expand capacity. But there’s more to it than that, said Chope. Modernization also will provide more protection from hurricane storm surges that could inundate the facility and knock it out of operation.

The Port of New York and New Jersey, the third largest port in the country, got a taste of what could go wrong during superstorm Sandy. A nine-foot storm surge inundated the portsm washing hazmat materials and other debris into the water channels and rendering electrical power unreliable. Flooded terminals closed for a week, leading to the diversion of 25,000 shipping containers and 58 vessels (some to Hampton Roads). Another 15,000 containers were lost, along with 9,000 automobiles and 4,500 trucks and vehicles.

The ports of Virginia, the nation’s fifth largest port complex, are determined to avoid a similar capacity, Chope said.

Thanks to the bond package, new electricity-powered, rail-mounted gantries will replace the existing diesel-powered straddle cranes. The investment will make possible a 50% increase in the number of containers to be loaded and unloaded. Getting less attention is the fact that the Virginia Port Authority is studying how to protect the terminal from disruption. “Where are we most at risk? Where are our critical nodes? What are the potential points of failure?”

For example, electric vaults at ground level will be elevated above projected storm surge levels. Buildings will be hardened to protect IT systems used to track cargo and communicate with shippers. “Data is king,” Chope said. It must be protected.

The VPA’s resilience efforts have been internally focused mostly, but the port relies upon utilities, especially electricity, and is inextricably tied to the network of railroads, highways and local roads that link the terminals to major markets. If local roads flood, as they are prone to do in the City of Norfolk, that could hinder trucks driving in and out with containers. Everything is interconnected. “What’s good for the city is good for the port,” he said. “What’s good for the port is good for the state.”

A Partial Mea Culpa on Shukla and GMU

by James A. Bacon

I fess up. I raised questions and made insinuations unwarranted by the facts in a recent post, “Did Shukla Fudge His Conflict-of-Interest Waiver Form?” When I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, so here goes….

The article addressed a conflict-of-interest waiver form submitted by George Mason University climatology professor Jagadish Shukla regarding his affiliation with the Institute for Global Environment and Society (IGES), which paid him $343,000 in 2012 over and above his university salary. I wrote:

Shukla’s waiver request form stated that he received annual salary “in excess of $10,000 from IGES.” The waiver-request form did not state that he earned $343,025 in 2013 compensation, nor that IGES paid his wife $141,000 as business manager, nor that the institute paid GMU colleague James Kinter $207,0000 as director, all as reported in IGES’ 990 form. Ten thousand dollars is in the range of part-time employment that would not conflict with Shukla’s university obligations; three-hundred and forty-three thousand dollars, which exceeded his university salary, is not.

So, the question arises whether Shukla submitted deceptively incomplete information by characterizing his compensation from IGES as “in excess of $10,000,” or whether he remedied that deficiency by conveying it verbally or in some other manner. …

Accordingly, I would conjecture, subject to verification, that the committee based its conflict-of-interest decision solely upon the information that Shukla provided in his waiver request form, in which he described his IGES compensation only as “in excess of $10,000.” …

One possible conclusion to draw from this evidence is that Shukla deliberately obscured his IGES compensation in the conflict-of-interest waiver request form. Another possible conclusion is that committee members knew of the hefty compensation but chose — wink, wink, nod, nod — not to make it an issue. Perhaps readers could offer other possible explanations.

A reader using the name “Travis Bickle” pointed out the existence of a GMU “Outside Employment” policy document of which I had been unaware when I wrote the article. That document states that GMU employees “may engage in certain employment outside the university, provided that the employee has obtained prior written approval of his or her supervisor and the employee complies with all relevant University policies, including policies regarding conflicts of interest…”

Employees must report salary and benefits “that may reasonably be anticipated to exceed $10,000 annually.” They also must submit “regular and routine reports (monthly or quarterly) from such firm or entity identifying the number of hours and total payment made to the University employee.”

Based on these reporting requirements, there is no reason to believe that GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was uninformed of Shukla’s significant additional compensation.

Had I done a more thorough job of reporting, I would not have asked if Shukla had fully complied with reporting requirements, nor if university officials were aware of his full outside income. Nor would I have raised the possibility that Shukla had fudged his conflict-of-interest compensation, or that university officials had looked the other way. Knowing what I know now, those were unfair questions to pose and insinuations to make based on the information available to me. I apologize for making them.

I apologize to readers as well. I have committed a number of gaffes over the years, and when I am made aware of them, I perform a public mea culpa. Doing serious journalism on a blog is like flying without a net. I have no editor to read behind me, spot inaccuracies or question the thoroughness of my reporting. I count on readers to fill that role, as Mr. “Bickle” has done. When I fall short of my standards, I do my best to set the record straight.

That said, there are still serious issues regarding Shukla’s immense compensation. In light of this new information I would reframe the issue this way: If GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was fully informed that Shukla’s income from IGES consumed 33 hours weekly and more than doubled his university salary, why did the committee allow it? How is it possible that working 33 hours on IGES business, as closely related with Shukla’s university job as director of the Climate Dynamics Program as it may have been, did not interfere with his teaching, administrative and other university duties?

Alternatively, if Shukla’s IGES duties were so closely aligned with his GMU duties that they posed no conflict, was he essentially collecting two salaries for doing the same job? If so, why would GMU have permitted it?

Then there is the bigger question to consider: Is Shukla an outlier in working the system, or is this a case where “everybody does it”? There are dozens of “institutes” and “centers” in Virginia universities, and hundreds of faculty members and researchers affiliated with them. Most if not all of these groups rely upon outside funding, whether from the federal government or from private sources. Is double dipping widespread? And, if so, are the safeguards in place — Virginia laws and university policies, federal R&D contracts, governance systems for 501(c)3 non-profit entities — adequate to prevent abuse?

Sweet Perks Paid to GMU Climate Change Prof

Jagadish Shukla

Jagadish Shukla

by James A. Bacon

In addition to collecting pay from George Mason University and the federally funded, non-profit Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES), climate scientist Jagadish Shukla also enjoyed some perks not normally due university professors. IGES would pay for business-class airline travel, expenses for Shukla’s wife to accompany him on some IGES-related travel, and the cost leasing of a vehicle for up to $7,200 per year, according to a memo outlining his proposed compensation obtained by Bacon’s Rebellion.

IGES base compensation to Shukla was set at $175 per hour “for hours actually devoted to the affairs of IGES,” up to a maximum of 40 hours per week, according to a memo entitled “President’s Compensation Package” and prepared by attorney Steven W. Jacobson with the firm West & Feinberg, PC. In addition Shukla was to receive an annual bonus equal to 7% of total base compensation and to be guaranteed an increase in compensation, absent any action by the board, of 3.5% yearly.

Shukla, whose scientific specialty is creating climate models, shot to national prominence last year when he and several of his GMU colleagues signed a letter calling for the Obama administration to prosecute corporate climate “deniers” under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Global Warming skeptics quickly retorted that he had been pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from the federally funded IGES while also being paid a full-time GMU salary.

As revealed by Bacon’s Rebellion, Shukla did acquire a conflict-of-interest waiver in 2013 from George Mason for his involvement with IGES, noting in his Request for Waiver form that he had “received annual salary in excess of $10,000.” However, it is unclear whether members of the conflict-of-interest committee knew that Shukla, in point of fact, received $343,000 in salary from IGES that year — plus substantial benefits.

According to Jacobson’s memo outlining Shukla’s proposed compensation plan, compensation of the IGES president (Shukla) was determined by the IGES Board of Directors. The $175 hourly rate, noted Jacobson, “is substantially lower than compensation levels of chief executive officers of for-profit companies of similar size in the region, and, while specific information on their compensation is not readily available, is believed to be comparable to or lower than senior professor compensation levels at major research universities in the region.”

It is not clear from the memo why Shukla’s compensation would be based upon a comparison with “for profit companies” of similar size. Also, the memo makes no mention of the fact that Shukla also was collecting a salary from George Mason University.

Shukla was required to travel “fairly extensively” for the benefit of IGES, the memo stated. “Subject to the availability of funds, he shall be entitled to travel in business class,” wrote Jacobson. If federal grants to IGES did not permit compensation for business-class travel, the difference between economy and business “will be paid from grants or other funds that do not carry such restrictions.” If business class seats are not available and travel is urgently required, the president was authorized to travel first class.

Also, states the letter: “If the president deems it essential that his wife (Anastasia Shukla, Business Manager) accompany him on IGES related travel, he is authorized to approve her travel subject to the availability of unrestricted IGES funds.”

According to IGES’ 990 Form filed for 2012, the Institute paid a total of $82,102 in travel expenses that year. The form did not break out expenses incurred by Shukla, his wife, and others on the IGES payroll.

The IGES travel policy was more open-ended than that allowed by GMU. According to GMU’s current “Travel Authorization and Reimbursement” Policy page:

Generally, airline travel cannot exceed the lowest rates charged for nonrefundable tourist/coach fare with a reasonable number of stops given the distance traveled. … Supervisors may approve business class travel under the following circumstances: (a) the business class fare does not cost more than the lowest available tourist/coach fare; (b) the travel is to western Europe and the business meeting is conducted within three hours of landing; (c) the travel is for a transoceanic intercontinental trip of more than eight hours, or (d) the traveler pays the difference.

Last month, I raised the issue of whether GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee exercised appropriate oversight over Shukla’s involvement with IGES. The Jacobson memo raises questions of who holds IGES accountable. Did anyone on the IGES board raise any questions of conflict-of-interest or double dipping?

Hundreds of university professors across Virginia receive federal funding for their research. How typical is Shukla of the way university professors handle research grants? Is it routine to set up autonomous institutes to administer the funds? Is it routine to engage in double dipping and setting up overrides of university travel policy?

Does anyone care? Where are the people who assure us of the integrity of the process for funding scientific research? I’m astonished at how little traction this story has gotten in the Virginia media or even the blogosphere.

Update: According to GMU’s “Outside Employment” policy, GMU employees “may engage in certain employment outside the university, provided that the employee has obtained prior written approval of his or her supervisor and the employee complies with all relevant University policies, including policies regarding conflicts of interest…” Employees must report salary and benefits “that may reasonably be anticipated to exceed $10,000 annually,” as Shukla did. They also must submit “regular and routine reports (monthly or quarterly) from such firm or entity identifying the number of hours and total payment made to the University employee.”

When I stated above that “it is unclear whether members of the conflict-of-interest committee knew that Shukla, in point of fact, received $343,000 in salary from IGES that year — plus substantial benefits,” I was unaware of the provisions in GMU’s Outside employment policy requiring employees to submit routine reports detailing hours and compensation. There is no reason to believe that Shukla failed to submit such reports, and no reason to question whether GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was fully apprised of his significant additional compensation.

Did Shukla Fudge His Conflict-of-Interest Waiver Form?

Jagadish Shukla (right) is congratulated by colleague Menas Kafatos at a 2005 awards ceremony.

by James A. Bacon

George Mason University climatology professor Jagadish Shukla obtained a waiver from the university’s conflict-of-interest committee for payments received from the federally funded Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) in addition to his full-time faculty salary, according to Freedom of Information Act documents acquired by Bacon’s Rebellion.

In his waiver request, Shukla revealed that he had a “personal interest” in the IGES contract with the National Science Foundation to conduct research on the predictability of the Earth’s climate. In the Request for Waiver form he submitted to GMU, he stated, “The Requestor is the President of IGES and serves as Principle Investigator on the GMU portion of the NSF grant and received annual salary in excess of $10,000 from IGES.”

The conflict-of-interest committee reviewed the waiver request on April 11, 2013. According to the committee minutes, “Shukla’s waiver was found acceptable,” pending minor revisions.

What is less clear is whether Shukla revealed that he was receiving not merely “a salary in excess of $10,000” but a salary of $343,000, and whether acknowledgement of that fact would have swayed the committee’s decision.

Shukla attracted widespread notoriety on the Internet when he and co-workers at GMU signed a letter last year urging President Obama to prosecute corporate climate “deniers” under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Global warming skeptics retorted that he should be the one investigated, given his pocketing of hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from the federally funded IGES while also being paid a full-time GMU salary. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, began probing the case.

Citing a previously undisclosed GMU audit, Smith released a letter to the National Science Foundation yesterday stating that the audit “appears to reveal” that Shukla had engaged in “double dipping.” Wrote Smith:  “This practice may have violated GMU’s university policy, his employment contract with the university, and Virginia state law.”

(Bacon’s Rebellion requested a copy of the auditor’s report. Zachary Kurz, communications director for the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology said, “We cannot make the audit itself public. … We tried our best to characterize the main findings in Smith’s letter.”)

The fact that Shukla notified GMU of a potential conflict of interest with his work for IGES and received a waiver might seem to exonerate his activities. But the FOIA documents provided by GMU leave questions unanswered.

Shukla’s waiver request form stated that he received annual salary “in excess of $10,000 from IGES.” The waiver-request form did not state that he earned $343,025 in 2013 compensation, nor that IGES paid his wife $141,000 as business manager, nor that the institute paid GMU colleague James Kinter $207,0000 as director, all as reported in IGES’ 990 form. Ten thousand dollars is in the range of part-time employment that would not conflict with Shukla’s university obligations; three-hundred and forty-three thousand dollars, which exceeded his university salary, is not.

So, the question arises whether Shukla submitted deceptively incomplete information by characterizing his compensation from IGES as “in excess of $10,000,” or whether he remedied that deficiency by conveying it verbally or in some other manner. If he conveyed the full amount of his IGES salary, he did not do so during the conflict-of-interest meeting itself — because he did not attend that meeting. How do we know that? Because in an April 30 email to Shukla, committee chair Dade introduced herself and briefed him on their review:

Hello Dr. Shukla,

I chair the Mason COI committee. At the April committee meeting we reviewed your waiver request. The committee had two minor comments…

It is clear from the context of the email that Shukla was not present at the meeting.

Accordingly, I would conjecture, subject to verification, that the committee based its conflict-of-interest decision solely upon the information that Shukla provided in his waiver request form, in which he described his IGES compensation only as “in excess of $10,000.”

Whatever discussion ensued, it could not have been very long. According to the minutes of the April 2013 meeting, the entire meeting lasted only 47 minutes — from 10:30 a.m. to 11:17 a.m. During that time, the committee reviewed its previous minutes, reviewed Shukla’s waiver and found it acceptable with minor revisions, reviewed five other Statement of Financial Interest disclosures, and gave expedited review to 16 more.

One of Dade’s comments addressed a correction to the date of the waiver period, changing 2009 to 2013. The other sought to clarify the statement in Shukla’s waiver request: “The Requestor shall not submit any joint proposals in the future.” Dade asked, “Is that because IGES is joining George Mason University?”

Had the committee been in possession of knowledge that IGES was paying Shukla $343,00, surely it would have generated some time-consuming discussion among the seven committee members and one consultant in attendance, or it would have been alluded to in Dade’s email to Shukla two weeks later.

One possible conclusion to draw from this evidence is that Shukla deliberately obscured his IGES compensation in the conflict-of-interest waiver request form. Another possible conclusion is that committee members knew of the hefty compensation but chose — wink, wink, nod, nod — not make it an issue. Perhaps readers could offer other possible explanations.

Presumably, the GMU auditor was in a position to get answers to the questions raised here. Lamar Smith has forwarded the information to the National Science Foundation for possible action. (See “Dialing up the Heat on Climate Warmist.) In the meantime, Virginians should be asking how GMU intends to handle the situation. The FOIA evidence strongly suggests that either Shukla or the committee members were remiss. If Smith was correct in his paraphrase of the auditor’s findings to the effect that Shukla violated GMU policy five times between 2003 and 2015, the blame probably rests with Shukla. In either case, GMU cannot ignore the issue, and it needs to set the record straight.

Update: According to GMU’s “Outside Employment” policy, GMU employees “may engage in certain employment outside the university, provided that the employee has obtained prior written approval of his or her supervisor and the employee complies with all relevant University policies, including policies regarding conflicts of interest…” Employees must report salary and benefits “that may reasonably be anticipated to exceed $10,000 annually,” as Shukla did. They also must submit “regular and routine reports (monthly or quarterly) from such firm or entity identifying the number of hours and total payment made to the University employee.”

When I stated above that “What is less clear is whether Shukla revealed that he was receiving not merely “a salary in excess of $10,000” but a salary of $343,000, and whether acknowledgement of that fact would have swayed the committee’s decision,” I was unaware of the provisions in GMU’s Outside employment policy requiring Shukla to submit routine reports detailing hours and compensation. There is no reason to believe that Shukla failed to submit such reports, thus no reason to believe that GMU’s conflict-of-interest board was uninformed of his significant additional compensation.

Dialing up the Heat on Climate Warmist

Jagadish Shukla

Jagadish Shukla

by James A. Bacon

A recent audit by George Mason University “appears to reveal” that climatologist Dr. Jagadish Shukla engaged in “double dipping” when he paid himself a full salary from the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) while pocketing a salary from GMU, according to Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

“This practice may have violated GMU’s university policy, his employment contract with the university, and Virginia state law,” wrote Smith in a letter to Alison C. Lerner, inspector general of the National Science Foundation.

Shukla, who served on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission, attracted national scrutiny when he and co-workers at GMU signed a letter last year urging President Obama to prosecute corporate climate “deniers” under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. Shortly thereafter, skeptics of global warming orthodoxy pointed out that Shukla might be violating the law by paying his wife and himself handsome salaries through IGES even while drawing a salary from GMU.

Smith, who has used his committee chairmanship to expose alleged wrong-doings of climate change scientists, then began looking into the Shukla case. Shukla’s institute, IGES, has received $63 million in taxpayer-funded grants since 2001 to conduct work primarily on climate computer modeling.

The main revelation in Smith’s letter is the reference to a GMU audit of Shukla’s financing. Wrote Smith:

According to GMU’s Faculty Handbook, “outside employment and paid consulting cannot exceed the equivalent of one day per week without written authorization from the collegiate dean or institute director.” Dr. Shukla violated this policy five different time periods from 2003 to 2015 because he failed to receive approval for paid consulting services in excess of one day per week. This allowed Dr. Shukla to double dip by receiving his full salary from GMU while receiving an excessive salary for working 28 hours per week at IGES. In another instance, in 2014 Dr. Shukla received $292,688 in compensation from IGES for working 28 hours per weeks while simultaneously receiving 100% of his GMU salary. In total, Dr. Shukla received $511,410 in compensation from IGES and GMU during 2014, without ever receiving the appropriate permission from GMU officials, apparently violating university policy.

Bacon’s bottom line: If Smith’s letter is an accurate representation of the evidence uncovered by GMU’s audit, one must ask how GMU will respond to Shukla’s double dipping. Shukla is one of the university’s most prestigious scientific faculty members, and he brings in millions of dollars in grants that support the activity of other professors and graduate students. The temptation may be to sweep the controversy under the rug. The question is whether the rules of conduct are to be applied to everyone or overlooked when convenient.

The Shukla controversy is a big test of the integrity of GMU’s governance policies. So far, the media has been asleep to this issue. Maybe it’s time to wake up.

A Humble Proposal for Addressing Recurrent Flooding

Flooding in Portsmouth. Image credit: Virginia Newsletter

Flooding in Portsmouth. Image credit: Virginia Newsletter

By James A. Bacon

The recurrence of tidal/surge flooding in Hampton Roads has increased from 1.7 days of “nuisance” flooding yearly in 1960 to 7.3 days in 2o14, and with continued land subsidence and sea-level rise, the flooding will become even more common. So say the authors of “Building Resiliency in Response to Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding: Comprehensive Planning in Hampton Roads,” published in the January 2016 issue of the Virginia News Letter.

Of all the region’s localities, according to the paper, the City of Portsmouth has moved the fastest to incorporate adaptive strategies into its comprehensive planning. The low-lying city of about 100,000 citizens is extremely vulnerable, with 38% of households lying within AE Flood Zones and approximately 50 miles of roadway located less than 4.5 feet above mean high water.

Last year the city interviewed nearly 2,000 households to ask about the frequency of flooding, flood-related loss, risk perception and mitigation behavior. Nearly half the residents surveyed reported being unable to get in or our of their neighborhoods in the past year due to flooding; more than a quarter reported being unable to get to work. More than 18% report suffering some form of damage to vehicles.

“There is strong perception among residents that future economic opportunities will be curtailed by changing sea levels; this view is even more strongly held by residents who experience difficulty getting in or out of their neighborhoods due to flood in or out of their neighborhoods due to flood,” the authors write. “About 30 percent of residents agree that flooding specifically has negatively impacted the value of their homes.”

The authors are less clear about what can be done. They allude to three broad strategies for dealing with flooding: retreat, protection and accommodation. Retreat might entail restricting development in low-lying areas. Protection might include sea walls, living shorelines, improvement storm water drains, better street drainage or ditch maintenance. Accommodation might mean accepting inconvenience, disruption and property loss as the “new normal.” But the paper provides little guidance as to when and where these strategies might be appropriate or how they might be paid for.

Bacon’s bottom line: The authors note that households can adapt by installing pumps and drains, relocating HVA systems or buying higher-riding automobiles. But, other than relocating their residences to higher land, there doesn’t seem much else that individual households can do to protect themselves. Some kind of collective action is necessary.

Here’s the problem: In some areas, improvements will be too costly. In others, the real estate is of such low value, it’s not worth saving even at modest cost. But if local governments spend money on one neighborhood, every other neighborhood in the political jurisdiction will want their piece of the pie. And why not? Their residents pay taxes, too.

hot_spots

Flooding hot spots in Portsmouth. Image credit: Virginia Newsletter.

Here’s an idea I throw out for discussion: Create community development authorities that encompass those areas (such as the yellow-red islands shown in map of Portsmouth to the right) that are most prone to flooding. A flood-mitigation plan is developed for each district, with improvements to be paid for with taxes raised from property owners in that district. Then put it to a vote of the residents of the district. Let those closest to the situation weigh the costs (a higher tax) versus the benefits (less property damage, flood-free streets, etc.) and decide for themselves.

The result would be a public-improvement plan more tightly aligned with the local circumstances and less vulnerable to political log-rolling than anything a city-wide effort could pull off and far easier to sell politically.

Was $100,000 in Federal Research Grants Diverted to an Indian Community College?

Jagadish Shukla in his native village of Mirdha, in a 2003 New York Times photograph.

Jagadish Shukla (left) in his native village of Mirdha, in a 2003 New York Times photograph.

by James A. Bacon

George Mason University climate scientist Jagadish Shukla isn’t under congressional scrutiny just for paying himself handsomely with federal research funds over and above his university salary, he is also being questioned about donating $100,000 to his pet education charity in India.

Shukla attracted considerable notoriety as the lead author of a letter to President Obama urging a federal investigation into major energy corporations under the RICO statute for “knowingly deceiving the American people about climate change.” Climate skeptics quickly hit back by drawing attention to his pocketing of $250,000 in salary and compensation from GMU as well as $314,000 as president of the federally funded Institute for Global Environment and Society (IGES) in addition to paying his wife Anastasia Shukla $146,000 in IGES funds.

On October 1, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, mailed a letter asking Shukla and IGES to preserve a “full and complete record of relevant communications” should the committee request them. Smith followed up with another letter, dated October 19, to request documents relating to the alleged shifting of $100,000 in federal grant money to the Institute for Global Education Equality of Opportunity and Prosperity in 2014, which then allegedly transferred the funds “to a school in India that was apparently founded by Dr. Shukla.”

“It appears that grants provided to IGES are not serving the intended purpose of providing services to the public,” wrote Smith. “Instead, taxpayers appear to be picking up the tab for excessive salaries, nepotism, questionable money transfers, and political activity while receiving little or no benefit.”

“The public expects non-profit organizations that receive taxpayer money to exercise responsible stewardship of their tax dollars,” he continued. “As the Committee is charged with investigating waste and abuse in agencies under its jurisdiction, I have initiated this oversight regarding grants received by Dr. Shukla.”

The query by Congressional Republicans occurs against the backdrop of a highly partisan debate over climate change. For years, climate warriors have tried to discredit skeptics by linking them to giant fossil fuel companies, with the implication that their arguments were tainted by self interest. The latest iteration of that argument, advanced in books and newspaper articles, is that Exxon Mobil knew the dangers of man-made climate change years ago but misled the public in a manner similar to the way tobacco companies hid the link between smoking and cancer. Exxon Mobil has heatedly denied the charges, responding that journalists cherry picked facts to fit their narrative. The letter signed by Shukla and 19 other climate scientists, including five from GMU, urged the Obama administration to prosecute energy companies if they were found to be lying to the public. Since then, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has subpoenaed documents from the oil giant to determine if the company lied to the public.

Skeptics have countered by arguing that research by climate alarmists is biased by the endless quest for federal research grants. Given the capture of the federal bureaucracy by climate alarmists, they contend, only research supporting the prevailing orthodoxy gets funded. Through his non-profit vehicle, IGES, Shukla has been a major beneficiary of federal funding, which he has used to fine-tune computerized climate models for forecasting global warming. As Shukla’s handling of the grant illustrates, skeptics contend, climate scientists aren’t pure either; they, too, pursue their self interest.

IGES describes itself as a not-for-profit organization “dedicated to climate research in service of society.” The institute was established to “improve understanding and prediction of the variations of the Earth’s climate through scientific research on climate variability and climate predictability, and to share both the fruits of this research and the tools necessary to carry out this research with society as a whole.”

In its 2014 Form 990 filing, IGES listed a $100,000 grant among its expenses, although it did not specify to whom the money was given. The Smith letter suggested that the recipient was the Institute for Global Education, Equality of Opportunity, and Prosperity. That group, which lists Anastasia (Anne) Shukla as its secretary, describes its mission as alleviating poverty, educating the public about the sources of poverty, establishing an education center in Washington, D.C., and “supporting Gandhi College in the Ballia district of Indian to provide education and training to poor rural students, especially women.” Continue reading

Why Is GMU Stonewalling?

stone_wallby James A. Bacon

Two months ago, Jagadish Shukla, a George Mason University professor, was one of twenty climate scientists to affix their signatures to a letter calling for a federal investigation into “corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” It was imperative, stated the letter, that “these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate.”

Outraged by the assault on free speech, climate skeptics brought to light some troubling facts about Shukla’s activities. Not only did Shukla take in $250,000 in salary and compensation from GMU, he paid himself $314,000 in 2014 as president of the Institute for Global Environment and Society (IGES), the recipient of generous federal grants, and that doesn’t include the $146,000 salary paid to his wife Anastasia Shukla.

A month ago, the controversy jumped from the Internet to the political realm when Congress got involved. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sent a letter informing Shukla that it was “foreseeable” that the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would investigate him, along with IGES, for using science-research monies provided by taxpayers while participating in partisan political activity. Although Shukla later stated that he signed the letter in a personal capacity, he did identify himself as a GMU professor, and he did post the letter on the IGES website.

The Smith letter asked Shukla/IGES to preserve a “full and complete record of relevant communications” should the Committee decide to request documents. The request encompassed all e-mail, electronic documents, and data created since January 1, 2009. The congressman also asked Shukla to exercise reasonable efforts to notify employees, former employees, contractors and third parties to do the same.

Shukla is a high-profile member of the GMU faculty, whose combined salary/compensation exceeds that of GMU’s president and makes him among the highest-paid professors at the university, if not the highest paid. If you’re looking for a local hook on this story, Shukla serves on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission, which is making recommendations to the governor regarding state climate change-related policy.

While the Congressional committee seems to be focused on Shukla, I would suggest that certain questions should be put to his employer, George Mason University.

  • What is GMU’s policy regarding faculty drawing salaries from outside organizations?
  • Did Shukla disclose to GMU that he and his wife were drawing salaries from IGES?
  • Did GMU review the arrangement to ensure that it complied with the university’s disclosure requirements, conflict-of-interest guidelines and other rules?
  • Has GMU been alerted to the congressional request for Shukla and IGES employees to preserve all electronic documents?
  • Do any such documents reside on GMU servers, and what measures, if any, has GMU put into place to ensure that the documents are preserved?
  • Has GMU “lawyered up”? Has Shukla “lawyered up?” If so, is GMU covering Shukla’s legal expenses?

Let’s crowd source this bad boy!

Contacting three separate people on the university’s communications team over the past three weeks, I have tried repeatedly to get answers from GMU. I received no answer from two spokepersons, and a non-responsive email response from a third. Clearly, GMU is stonewalling. To get answers of any kind, I apparently have no choice but to file FOIA requests. I expect that GMU will maintain that certain correspondence is privileged, either because it pertains to “employee” matters or “legal” matters. I get only one shot at this, and I want to make sure I craft the FOIA request correctly.

I would invite readers to crowd-source this story. If you dig up something worthwhile through Internet research, or if you have suggestions on how to word the FOIA request, let me know in the comments.

Fuzzy Thinking at the Top

Woolly headed

Woolly headed

by James A. Bacon

Governor Terry McAuliffe views the implementation of the Clean Power Plan as a great opportunity for Virginia to create “green” jobs in solar energy and energy-efficiency while also reducing carbon emissions and head off global warming. “I am working hard with Virginia businesses and environmental leaders to seize this moment to lead for our planet and for our economy,” he wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today.

That’s a fine sentiment. Virginia does need to create more jobs. And McAuliffe correctly perceives that the commonwealth faces momentous decisions regarding its electric system. But there was so much platitudinous thinking in the op-ed that I found it thoroughly discouraging. At the highest level of Virginia government, banalities have replaced substantive thought. Let’s take a look at some of the assaults on reason in the piece.

Job creation. Yes, if Virginia builds more solar plants, installs more solar panels on roofs, and builds more wind-powered turbines, it will create jobs related to the construction and operation of wind and solar power. However, the State Corporation Commission staff said last year that implementing the Clean Power Plan could drive electric rates 20% higher. Higher electric rates would discourage industrial development and take money out of the pockets of business and residential customers, all of which would result in job destruction. The difference is that the new energy jobs would be highly visible while the lost jobs, distributed in dribs and drabs across economy, would be largely invisible. Which effect would outweigh the other? Nobody knows, and anyone who pretends to is just making stuff up.

Environmentalists claim that, if implemented properly, the Clean Power Plan would nudge rates only a little higher, and ratepayers would save enough money through energy conservation that their bills actually would be a little lower than today. Perhaps that’s so. It certainly would be a much more desirable income than a 20% increase in electricity rates. So… let’s see the plan! What combination of programs and strategies will lead to this ideal outcome? How would the McAuliffe administration propose implementing the Clean Power Plan differently than the SCC would, while taking care to ensure a reliable supply of electricity, to avoid that 20% rate increase?

There was no hint in McAuliffe’s op-ed that such hard-nose thinking is even necessary. Chanting, “Rah, rah, green jobs,” is not a plan.

Norfolk flooding. If I hear one more invocation of rising sea levels and increased flooding in Norfolk as justification for spending billions of dollars overhauling Virginia’s energy infrastructure, I think my brain will explode. Here’s what the governor had to say on the subject:

Even before the hurricane headed toward Virginia’s coast, the city of Norfolk was bracing for a greater number of nuisance flooding days over the next year due to higher sea levels and more frequent storm surges. Because Norfolk houses the largest U.S. naval station in the world, this is also an issue of national security.

The Clean Power Plan is recognition of the need for action.

This logic is so woolly headed that if we could shave it, we could put the world’s sheep farmers out of business. The increasing incidence of flooding is a justification for building flood walls, hardening infrastructure, upgrading building codes, eliminating subsidies for flood insurance and reforming land use — not for restructuring Virginia’s electric grid.

The reality is that anything Virginia does to re-engineer its electric grid to reduce CO2 emissions will have an impact on global warming and rising sea levels too small to measure. According to estimates using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s MAGICC/SCENGEN climate model, the Clean Power Plan will reduce global temperatures about one-one hundredth of a degree (Centigrade) by the year 2100. Virginia’s implementation would account for roughly 1/40th that amount (based on its proportion of the U.S. GDP). To suggest that Virginia, by reducing global temperatures by 1/4,000th of a degree Centigrade, will slow the rate of rising sea levels enough to reduce the impact upon Norfolk is fantasy thinking.

As it happens, there is an argument for implementing the Clean Power Plan: By making the investment, the U.S. can thereby exercise the moral leadership to induce other countries, particularly China, India, to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions. You can choose to accept that argument or not based upon your own partisan and ideological inclinations. But that’s not the argument that McAuliffe offers for supporting the plan.

The future grid. The Obama administration is imposing the Clean Power Plan upon America at a time when the electric power industry is in extraordinary flux, with new technologies and business models threatening to up-end the regulatory structure that has prevailed over the past 80 or so years. The pace of change, and the uncertainty it brings, is unprecedented during the era of regulated utilities. New technologies show enormous promise for replacing fossil fuels. At the same time, given the inherently intermittent nature of those power sources, there are many issues to work out for ensuring the reliability of the electric system, upon which our entire civilization is built. There is little room for error.

There are many profound questions to ponder. Should we invest in large nuclear- and gas-powered power plants with 40-year life spans when solar technology might produce electric power more cheaply within a 5- to 10-year time frame? Should we invest in the current generation of renewable fuels today when the next generation could well cost far less? In either case, we risk saddling Virginia’s electric power system with antiquated and uneconomic capacity. Do we want a big-is-better power system built around large power plants and a robust transmission system, or do we prefer a decentralized, small-is-beautiful approach that may not be as efficient but could be less vulnerable to catastrophic failure? What trade-offs are we willing to make between cost, reliability and the environment?

What path would McAuliffe urge us to take? We don’t know. The Governor offers no clue in his op-ed. Indeed, there are no simple answers to these questions. One way or the other, either we decide what future we want, or we will have a future thrust upon us.

George Mason Profs: Prosecute Climate Deniers

Jadadish Shukla (right) receiving award in India.

Jagadish Shukla (right) receiving Padma Shri Award in India.

by James A. Bacon

Jagadish Shukla, a George Mason University climate scientist, thinks corporate climate deniers should be criminally prosecuted under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law.

Corporations and other organizations have “knowingly deceived” the American people about the risks of climate change, wrote Shukla and nineteen other scientists (five of whom also are GMU professors) in an open letter to President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.”

Wow. Is this what science has come to in the United States today — seeking criminal prosecution of those who espouse different views? The implications of this mindset are absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, only 20 scientists signed the letter, so we can be hopeful that the thinking expressed therein is not representative of most climate scientists or even climate alarmists generally — although the missive does cite as its inspiration a proposal championed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island.

The premise is that fossil fuel companies, like the tobacco companies before them, are knowingly and fraudulently disseminating false science. Barry Klinger, also a GMU climate scientist, insists that the letter signatories aren’t trying to throw climate skeptics in jail or repress their right to free speech — just squelch the right of companies engaging in fraud to sell a product that does harm.

In a Q&A on his website, Klinger is sensitive to the charges of “ideologically based legal harassment.” That’s how he described former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s aborted investigation of Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climate scientist whose name was prominent among those sullied in the East Anglia email scandal. “Apparently,” writes Klinger, “there are some who believe it is the return of the Inquisition to investigate a giant corporation but a good deed to investigate an individual scientist.”

In other words, while Klinger disapproves of Cuccinelli’s subpoena of Michael Mann’s emails — Cuccinelli never got the emails, by the way — he thinks ideologically based criminal prosecutions are OK if the targets aregiant corporations.” Pardon me for failing to see any meaningful differences between the two cases. If one is wrong, so is the other. Of course, the ultimate goal of the letter signatories is not to pursue justice but to de-fund and de-legitimize those with opposing views while maintaining their own sources of funding from government and foundations as sacrosanct.

Which brings us back to Mr. Shukla, Klinger’s colleague at GMU and lead signatory to the letter. Shukla is a scientist of some renown, who specializes in building computerized climate models and has served as a lead author for the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. He has done work reconstructing the climate of the Mediterranean world in the Roman era that I, as a serious amateur student of 1st-century Palestine, find fascinating.

I am not remotely qualified to judge the scientific value of Shukla’s work, but I do feel competent to comment upon his foray into public policy. It appears that climate alarmism, to riff off an old Saturday Night Live routine, has been bery, bery good to Mr. Shukla. Roger Pielke Jr., a climate scientist himself, notes that Shukla runs his government grants through a tax-exempt, non-profit organization, the Institute of Global Environment and Society, Inc. The Institute raked in $3.8 million in 2014, from which Shukla paid himself $293,000 in reportable compensation and his wife Anne Shukla $146,000 as a business manager. It’s not bad money, considering that Shukla also received total compensation of $250,000 as a professor and chair of the GMU Climate Dynamics department. That would make Shukla slightly more highly compensated than GMU President Angel Cabrera — and I’m betting that Cabrera’s wife doesn’t knock down a $146,000-a-year salary for work related to his job as university president.

Shukla also has been granted numerous awards and medals, including the 2012 Padma Shri Award from the government of India. In sum, he is richly rewarded financially and with status conferred by his peers for his work building global climate-change models.

I wonder if Mr. Shukla’s climate models predicted the actual, real-world temperatures of the past 18 years. The mean temperature increase has been zero, as measured by satellite readings, and within the statistical margin of error, as measured by terrestrial readings. If after the expenditure of millions of dollars Mr. Shukla has failed to forecast those readings and yet persists in raising the cry of catastrophic climate change, could we conclude, using the logic he applies to others, that his work was not only in error but fraudulent, motivated by the desire to continue the flow of lucrative research contracts — and not only fraudulent but economically devastating because it justifies the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars to combat an exaggerated threat?

Shukla certainly knows the stakes. As he himself is quoted in 2011 as saying: “It is inconceivable that policymakers will be willing to make billion-and trillion-dollar decisions for adaptation to the projected regional climate change based on models that do not even describe and simulate the processes that are the building blocks of climate variability.”

Ordinarily, I would not be inclined to equate Mr. Shukla’s behavior with criminality, but it does seem reasonable to apply to him the same criteria he applies to others. Perhaps he should be more careful about what he asks for. Once the precedent of criminalizing science has been set, some future administration might decide Shukla falls on the wrong side of the ideological divide.