NOAA Stonewalls on DCSOVR Documents

Read time: 4 mins

The stonewalling on DSCOVR documents continues, this time with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To recap, NASA was given over $100 million in taxpayers money to build the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a spacecraft designed to measure the energy budget of our warming planet from the unique vantage of a million miles away.

Even though it is fully completed over five years ago, DSCOVR is still sitting in a box at the Goddard Space Centre – likely for political reasons.

The mission was originally promoted by Al Gore – a liability when George Bush and Dick Cheney remain in the Whitehouse. 

DSCOVR would also immediately settle any remaining debate about the origins of climate change – a potential wrinkle for the $8 trillion oil industry. NASA may also be threatened by DSCOVR because the mission may call into question the billions of dollars they have invested low Earth orbit satellites.

Low orbit satellites are useful but they fly so close to the planet it is like trying to map an elephant using a microscope.

Because DSCOVR would orbit over 1,000 times farther away, it would for the first time allow us able to monitor the entire sunlit disc of our planet and resolve some glaring discrepancies in our understanding of the planet's energy budget. If it works better, then some NASA heads might roll.

DeSmog Blog has been doing an investigative series on this unique spacecraft since September and the story just keeps getting weirder.

NASA quietly killed DSCOVR in 2006 citing “competing priorities”. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I tried unsuccessfully for over a year to extract any internal documents from NASA about why the project was cancelled. What was released instead was letters from over thirty leading scientists expressing concern that this vital mission was not going forward.

You can view them here.

Then I tried to digging documents out of the Whitehouse.

If the Bush Administration had a hand in killing the mission, it seemed reasonable that there might be a paper trail. We will never know. I received a short letter from Whitehouse Deputy General Counsel F. Andrew Turley, stating:

Please be advised that the Office of the Administration, Executive Office of the President is not subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Your letter therefore is returned without further action.”

Next I tried NOAA.

Last year, NOAA apparently requested that the entire mission be transferred over to them, at no cost to NASA. Strangely there has been no response from NASA. Meanwhile there is the real worry that NASA may destroy or cannibalize the spacecraft to cover their tracks.

So I filed a third information request last year, this time with NOAA.

The government stonewalling has kicked in again.

My request was sent in November. I was told my documents would be emailed on December 11. Then I got call from NOAA General Counsel Hugh Schratwieser before Christmas telling me that it going to take longer than they thought but I should get the document package in early January. Mr. Schratwieser also assured me NOAA takes pride in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and that I shouldn’t worry.

Then silence.

I have since sent five unanswered emails to NOAA requesting updates on my request. Government bodies like NOAA have a legal obligation to respond to FOIA requests in 20 working days. It is now over three times that long and counting.

Since I was repeatedly told over the last two months that the package of documents was very close to being assembled, I can only assume that it is now complete but being held up for political reasons.

What could be in there that they are so worried about?

If members of media want to ask what the hold up is, I encourage them to contact Mr. Schratwieser directly at 301-713-9684 or by email: [email protected]

Here's the previous stories we've done in our ongoing DSCOVR investigative series:

Part 1: the background

Part 2: How politics conspired to kill DSCOVR

Part 3: Digging for answers from NASA

Part 4: FOIA, NASA, DSCOVR - my acronym hell

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Keep it up Mitchell. I am totally ignorant about how these things work, but given that Gore was a proponent, and assuming you want more pressure put on the matter (that’s why you’re directing media to Schratwieser, yes?), then maybe contacting Gore’s people would be helpful. In the meantime I think I’ll write to him myself.

An email from NOAA director C. Lautenbacher in 2004 (excerpt below) shows an unwilling by the Vice Admiral to deal with climate change in his agency.

From “Conrad C Lautenbacher”
Date Tuesday, August 17, 2004 6:57 pm

Subject Re: Hydrologic climate change work in the NCRFC area

Second, I really can’t and do not want to try to interfere with what your supervisor assigns to you for work in support of his mission within the agency. There are avenues for you to discuss these issues within the chain of command and our organization.

The full text of the email can be viewed at: