Sen. Feinstein Wrong (Again) on Point Reyes Science

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Sen. Feinstein Wrong (Again) on Point Reyes Science

Her Latest Bogus Charges Reflect Pattern of Political Pressure for Oyster Outfit

Washington, DC — In an extraordinarily intemperate letter, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has accused the National Park Service of fabricating science in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examining a commercial oyster operation in the West Coast’s only marine wilderness at Point Reyes National Seashore.  The Senator’s charges do not bear up to scrutiny, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), but represent the latest in a long string of political gambits to win permit renewal for this shellfish operation which would block long-anticipated wilderness protections this November when the permit expires.

In a March 29, 2012 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Sen. Feinstein claimed the Park Service is guilty of “deceptive and potentially fraudulent” conduct to “once again fabricate the science” in order to serve its “unwavering bias against the oyster farm.”   She contended that the EIS section on noise impacts of oyster boats depended solely upon “decibel recordings…from jet skis in New Jersey 17 years ago.”

Without citing it, Senator Feinstein apparently based her letter upon a complaint filed earlier in the week by Dr. Corey Goodman, a long-time advocate for the oyster enterprise.  A detailed review of his claims by the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (which supports wilderness protections) finds that he overstates and misrepresents the facts supporting the EIS conclusions that the oyster operation violates park noise limits. Contrary to his claim that the Park Service exaggerated sound levels, the opposite is true:

  • The Park Service understated the actual sound level impacts by using published data on noise from a boat that most closely represents the company’s boats and then cutting that noise level in half.  Even these underestimates exceeded the agency’s 60 decibel noise limit.  Moreover, the agency did not count other noise sources from plant machinery and delivery trucks;
  •  All data cited by the Park Service was clearly footnoted and accurately described; and
  •  By contrast, the company’s consultant submitted questionable estimates that tested boats at docking speed instead of full-throttle, doubled natural background sounds against which human-caused noise is measured and minimized noise violations by averaging them over time.

“Senator Feinstein should do her homework before casting aspersions on the integrity of public servants,” stated PEER executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that an extensive peer review just validated the Park Service scientific work in the EIS, the sixth such review instigated by Feinstein.  “After six reviews have upheld the substance of the Park Service work, Senator Feinstein is now grasping at straws.”

This is not the first time that Senator Feinstein has relied on Goodman’s flawed science to pressure a scientific review. Last year, Feinstein placed a rider on the Marine Mammal Commission’s annual funding bill urging the Commission to consider Goodman’s approach to analyzing harbor seal data. The Commission rejected this approach as cherry-picking and criticized Goodman’s science as “artificially linked and inflated…using superficial statistical tests”..

“This is not rocket science – motor boats and machinery make noise and this location, Drakes Estero, is supposed to be wilderness,” added Ruch, pointing out that Sen. Feinstein is now objecting to the process her own legislation created.  “Senator Feinstein’s repeated personal interventions for this one company have become the very epitome of political interference with science to which she claims to be objecting.”

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