In February of 2012, Dr. Paul Houser made headlines when he filed for federal whistleblower status after being fired by the Bureau of Reclamation. Houser was the Scientific Integrity Office for the Bureau’s DC office. Houser claims that months after complaining to superiors that press materials related to the Department of Interior’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement on dam removal was biased in favor of removal, he was fired.
Houser’s allegations deserve to be fully investigated to determine whether are not they are true and justice should be done. That said, it should be noted that Houser’s formal allegations stem from his assertion that Interior’s four page summary of the over 6,000 pages of independently peer reviewed information overstated the case for dam removal. Houser never points to a specific study or data point or otherwise argues that data has been manipulated. Furthermore, editing public relations materials was not part of his job description. It seems odd that a science officer would risk his reputation by blowing the whistle over a press summary especially when other leading scientists so strongly disagree with Houser’s position.
Take for example the Independent Peer Review Panel Report on the Secretarial Determination Overview Report. The Overview Report is a 300 page distillation of all the reports which inform the dam removal decision. Dr. William Graf, chairman of the Peer Review Committee and member of the National Academy of Science wrote in their Review, “In the opinion of the Panel, the Overview Report authors handled many difficult issues with vision, clarity, and skill. The Overview Report is an admirable synthesis of diverse research activities that can support decision-makers engaged in the issue of dam removal on the Klamath River.” (p 7)
The Independent Panel which reviewed the studies on how dam removal and KBRA implementation would affect Chinook salmon populations wrote, “The Panel believes that dam removal is the greatest limiting factor precluding Chinook salmon rehabilitation. Time will also be needed for new Chinook salmon stocks to evolve to the evolving water quality conditions. Delaying damremoval seems an unwise proposal.” (P 74)
Scientists often disagree on how to interpret data, so the diversity of opinions is neither odd nor surprising except that one scientist has chosen to use his difference of opinion to embolden special interests opposed to dam removal who historically have based their arguments on irrational fears of international conspiracy theories that involve black helicopters, the United Nations, International bankers, drug warlords and everything else ever written into a B-rate crime drama.
Indeed, Houser’s actions since he made his allegations public have only served to undermine his own credibility. He has become a willing super star among the right wing groups entrenched in the Klamath Basin’s culture wars. Since filing his original complaint, Houser’s comments have increasingly become subjective or down right factually corrupt. During his recent trip to Siskiyou County, he even adopted the talking points of these groups, telling a bedazzled group in Yreka that “coho aren’t native to the Klamath.” Aside from this being one of the biggest lies put forth by dam removal opponents, it is outside Houser’s area of scientific expertise. He’s a hydrometeorologist not a fish biologist.
Houser goes on to claim that ‘other alternatives’ such as fish ladders, a fish bypass, and trapping and hauling of fish around the dams have not been evaluated. Guess he missed the decade of reports that fed into the Environmental Impact Statement on PacifiCorp’s original application for relicensing the dams. Trap and haul, as we all as many other options were indeed evaluated. In the end the relicensing process concluded that the legally mandated upgrades necessary to relicense the dams would result in a hydropower project that operated at a $20 million a year deficit. It also concluded that dam removal was best way to address water quality and fisheries impacts. Essentially the same conclusions reached by current analysis on dam removal under terms of the Klamath Agreements.
Houser was even so bold as to claim credit for the fact that the Secretary did not issue a formal determination as to whether or not dam removal is safe, affordable, and in the public interest. This Secretarial Determination is called for in the Agreements with March 2012 as a target date. Houser claims that his February 26, 2012 whistleblower complaint “delayed dam removal decision indefinitely.”
Had Houser read the Agreements he would know that congressional inaction, not his complaint, has delayed the decision.
If the Department of Interior is playing fast and loose with the facts when it comes to dam removal, we all want and deserve to know. But this process has been exposed to three different tiers of independent peer review, not to mention years of scrutiny of PacifiCorp’s license application. One would be hard pressed to find another federal action that has received this degree of scrutiny. Every single study is available online for public review and comment.
What’s most disturbing about Houser is that he is allowing himself to be used by one particular side of the debate to forward a political agenda built on a foundation of conservative ideology instead of scientific information. By doing this Houser undermines his own case for misconduct and his own professional reputation.