Some climate scientists are pleased that Kelvin Droegemeier will advise the president if confirmed.
How hot is America right now? So hot that President Trump picked a science adviser named Kelvin.
With heat waves and wildfires scorching the western US, meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier, an expert on extreme weather, has been nominated to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
If confirmed by the Senate, Droegemeier would end the longest vacancy in the 42-year history of the post. Currently, the highest-ranking science official in the White House is Michael Kratsios, a 31-year-old political science grad who is a deputy assistant at OSTP.
Aside from being a great example of nominative determinism (where your name lines up with your job), Droegemeier is a well-respected extreme weather scientist. The 59-year-old is currently the vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, where he’s researched storm forecasting for 30 years. His 55-page CV lists dozens of peer-reviewed papers and presentations at scientific meetings (“Identifying key parameters for anticipating tornadogenesis in simulated mesoscale storms using data mining,” reads one title).
Previously, he was nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Obama to serve on the National Science Board, which governs the National Science Foundation. He’s also testified as an expert witness in aircraft accidents and founded a company, Weather Decision Technologies Inc.
Being the president’s science adviser isn’t a job that has precise boundaries. Mostly, it involves consulting the president on science for important policy decisions, like the future of nuclear energy in the United States or how to encourage more technology breakthroughs. The OSTP also coordinates across government, universities, and the private sector to advance the White House’s science agenda.
For climate researchers, the pick was a pleasant surprise.
Some of Trump’s other nominees for top science-related posts in government and some of the other names rumored to have been in the running for OSTP have had far less scientific credibility.
In April, Trump selected Jim Bridenstine, a Republican Congress member from Oklahoma who hedged on humanity’s role in rising temperatures, to lead NASA. Kathleen Hartnett White, a member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, withdrew her nomination to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality in February. She said in a 2016 radio interview that “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism, this secular, elite religion, now evidently being global warming.”
Previous potential picks to lead OSTP included emeritus Princeton University physicist William Happer, who has said, “There is no problem from CO2.” Another rumored nominee was the Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter, who downplayed humanity’s influence on global warming.
So science advocacy groups breathed a sigh of relief when the White House announced Droegemeier as the pick Tuesday evening. “Dr. Droegemeier is an extreme weather expert, a knowledge base that is becoming more and more important with climate change loading the dice as extreme weather becomes more prevalent, costly, and deadly,” wrote Michael Halpern, the deputy director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Droegemeier’s former colleagues say his views on climate change align with those of most scientists. “I’m certain he believes in mainstream climate science,” Rosina Bierbaum, who worked on climate change issues with Droegemeier at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, told Nature.
If he gets the job, Droegemeier may have many opportunities to apply his extreme weather expertise in policymaking. Currently, many parts of the US are experiencing extreme heat. That’s led to expansive wildfires. The heat is also becoming increasingly costly for the economy.
There are other scientific policy concerns that would benefit from a fully staffed OSTP, like the ongoing opioid epidemic.
But according to John Holdren, who served as science adviser to Obama, the biggest obstacle for Droegemeier may be the president himself. “He will have many challenges in his new post, not [the] least of which that there is no evidence President Trump is interested in science,” he told E&E News.
His first order of business will be to staff the rest of his office, which experienced major personnel cuts to its energy and environment division last year.