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Censored scientist John Anderson on how to restore sound policy-making in Texas and (maybe) save the Texas coast

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Michael Barajas

Two months of sustained outrage from scientists, academics, and newspaper editorial boards may have changed things at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — at least when it comes to publishing hard, peer-reviewed science. John Anderson, a prominent Rice University professor who in October accused the TCEQ of censorship, says the commission has finally agreed to reinstate references to climate change and sea-level rise the agency chopped from its commissioned report on the health of Galveston Bay, findings that were all gleaned from a decade of peer-reviewed research.
Looking back at the conflict with TCEQ, there's one bright spot, Anderson said: it may have brought more attention to the issue of the Gulf's rapidly changing coast. Still, the spat did more to highlight how in Texas there's little appetite for science at the policy-making level, he said. For sea-level rise, climate change, and how to tackle changes along the Gulf Coast in the coming century, Anderson says Texas is “in a state of denial.”

Anderson also pointed to what he feels are real steps the state could take in looking at the future of the Texas coast. The General Land Office, he insisted, could take the roughly $13 million per year it spends dumping sand on coastal beaches and instead pump the money into wetlands preservation and restoration. “But as long as we have people in Austin, and a governor who denies global climate change and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who denies it, then we haven't even made the first step, that educational step,” he said.
Below are highlights from a talk with Anderson on Friday.

On the months-long controversy with TCEQ

“Honestly, probably relatively few people would've read [the report] without this whole mess. I think it's raised public attention. There's a lot of good people at TCEQ, at least that's my perception. I think it's unfortunate that something like this happens. I mean, [TCEQ Commissioner] Buddy Garcia, who I initially wrote to, I know Buddy, I think his heart's in the right place. I think he's a smart guy, and even at the level he's at, the commissioner level, I had that impression. But those guys don't tell me about the internal politics. I know some of Buddy's assistants, you know people who work with him at the ground level, who are smart. They care, I think. But what's important is that somewhere at the top, it seems there are these bright people who are not able to do their job, which is protecting the Texas environment. I mean, it is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”

On political rhetoric surrounding sea-level rise and climate change

“If you drive up and down around the Texas coast, I think you can quickly get a feeling for the fact that our coast is changing very rapidly, and it has been changing for a long time. … There's certainly a strong suggestion that current rates of change are unprecedented. Now I think that's not terribly surprising. Those of us who keep up with the literature on sea-level change know that the rate of sea-level rise has accelerated. And, in fact, on the global scale the rate of sea level rise has increased six-fold in historical time, this century. Most of that since the 1940s.

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