Lack of Government Accountability Endangers Business

Dan Epstein
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Posted: May 14, 2013 12:01 AM
Lack of Government Accountability Endangers Business

The U.S. government should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers based on special interests. Unfortunately, government agencies often lack the oversight necessary to prevent agency officials from making choices that are free from corruption.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) is a small oyster farm operated by the Lunny family, located on the Point Reyes National Seashore in northern California. For four generations, this family has taken great care to farm the land in this area in a sustainable way, in accordance with practices that have been in place in the area for centuries. The oyster farm, owned by the Lunny family since 2007, employs about 30 people, and is the kind of small business that should be celebrated by a government that has a stagnant economy on its hands.

Unfortunately, the Lunny family is currently fighting for the survival of their business because the federal agencies purposefully manipulated and misrepresented scientific data in an attempt to force the company to close its doors. In November 2012, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar chose not to renew DBOC’s use permit for the National Park Service (NPS) land on which the farm operates. This move was a direct appeasement to environmental activists who would like to see the area currently occupied by the Lunnys’ farm become wilderness.

DBOC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California where a request for injunction to keep the farm open during the lawsuit is currently pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit. The hearing to decide the fate of the company is on May 14, 2013 in San Francisco.

This family’s business is in jeopardy due to faulty science and lack of government oversight. Instead of looking at all facts available to them, NPS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) chose to rely on flawed science and poorly prepared reports. Throughout the Lunnys’ ordeal, scientific studies that contradict the findings of the ones presented by the federal agencies involved have been available yet ignored.

In August of 2012, on behalf of the Lunnys and Dr. Corey Goodman, Cause of Action filed a request for data correction before the National Park Service. In March, Cause of Action released a report showing how NPS and DOI propelled bad science forward to harm DBOC. Last week, National Academy of Sciences member Dr. Corey Goodman, who has long studied the Drakes Bay Estero, presented new data that invalidates government findings about the impact of the Lunnys’ farm on wildlife in the area, thus invalidating grounds on which opposition to the farm have attempted to claim that DBOC is bad for the environment.

While a 2011 lawsuit against Sec. Salazar confirmed that political influence in an agency’s decision was unacceptable, in the case of DBOC the government willfully ignored data, used flawed methodology, brushed blatant misconduct under the rug and prioritized politics over scientific integrity in order to shut down a business and leave the Lunnys’ employees looking for work.

The decision to rely on flawed science in this case is a direct rejection of the White House Scientific Integrity policy. In his memorandum on scientific integrity to the American public, President Obama pledged to "restore scientific integrity in government decision making."

Despite the President’s pledge, the government officials involved in the decision to close the doors of DBOC were persuaded by science that was manipulated by several government agencies - the Marine Mammal Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of the Interior. All of these agencies lack significant oversight, accountability, and transparency, and as a result have gone unchecked in their manipulation of data.

The lack of agency oversight in the DBOC case is the reason that flawed science was presented to Secretary Salazar, who decided to shut the farm down. Following the May 14 hearing, the Ninth Circuit court could decide to uphold the District Court’s original decision to deny DBOC an injunction, unnecessarily forcing the Lunnys to close their business, layoff their employees and find a way to start anew - after a generations-long tradition of sustainable farming on the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The DBOC case demonstrates that without proper oversight of federal agencies, it is possible for government to abuse taxpayer dollars by failing to commit to scientific integrity, instead using bad science to shut down prosperous businesses owned and operated by hard-working individuals. This is a dangerous precedent to set, and it is not one that should be tolerated by the American people.