Friday, May 25, 2007

The Georgia GOP: Champions of Ecology

Georgia's senators Johnny Isakson and Saxy Chambliss, shown above with our governor Sonny Perdue on the right, took up the cause today of the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. Did they win?

What appears to have transpired here is political gamesmanship all the way around, beginning with the Department of Energy which is trying to employ its own scientists and private sector contractors at the expense of the regional experts and graduate students on SREL staff. In a letter received today by congressmen Brad Miller (D-NC) and Nick Lampson (D-TX), the DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management writes that DOE concluded nearly two years ago that "basic science missions did not warrant continued funding of the University for (SREL)." According to DOE assistant secretary James A. Rispoli, the "leadership" of SREL responded to the DOE review with a plan to make SREL "self-sustaining by seeking specific research assignments from the entire DOE complex, not just the Office of Science or the Office of Environmental Management, and by actively responding to solicitations from other Federal entities (or from state and private entities)."

Reading between the lines, the present appeal by the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory to legislators and to the general public may mean that the above proposed solution did not work out. I think it highly likely that the University of Georgia was never comfortable with the plan outlined by Rispoli in the first place. Aiken, South Carolina would be a difficult location to establish a competitive scientific enterprise such as DOE and SREL leadership are supposed to have had in mind. As noted in the SREL statement on their funding situation, those who will suffer the most if the laboratory closes will be university graduate students and the local community. The politicians win either way.

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