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WASHINGTON — The Senate will not vote this year to confirm a new head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lawmakers said this week. That leaves the agency responsible for understanding and predicting changes in the earth’s climate without a Senate-confirmed leader for the longest period since it was created in 1970.
Barry Lee Myers, the chief executive of AccuWeather, a private forecasting firm that relies largely on data from the agency’s National Weather Service, has been a controversial figure since President Trump first nominated him to lead the agency in October 2017. Democrats have said that Mr. Myers has significant conflicts of interest, including his past eagerness to privatize the National Weather Service. For several years, Mr. Myers fought government programs that would compete with AccuWeather services.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, which oversees the agency, said a vote on Mr. Myers was not in the cards before Congress leaves at the end of the year.
“I think that things are so crunched it’s going to be very difficult to get that,” Mr. Nelson said.
Republicans blamed Democrats for the delay. Mr. Trump had to renominate Mr. Myers in January after the Senate failed to act last year. Mr. Myers has twice been advanced by the Commerce Committee, said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican chairman.
“The unfortunate legacy of the continued obstruction by some Senate Democrats on nominations like this one will be an increased reluctance by those with relevant private-sector experience to serve in government,” Mr. Thune said in a statement.
Under Senate rules, any nomination not approved or rejected during one session of Congress must be resubmitted by the president unless the Senate unanimously agrees to waive the rule. It’s unclear whether Mr. Trump will put Mr. Myers’s name forward a third time. An attorney for AccuWeather who has been representing Mr. Myers, Tom Fahy, referred questions to the White House, which did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to predicting the weather, the agency is charged with monitoring oceans, helping coastal communities protect themselves from storms and managing fisheries. The agency is also responsible for launching and maintaining satellites that provide data for climate trends and weather forecasts for severe events like hurricanes.
Scientists said the administration’s failure to install permanent leaders in top positions underscored its disinterest in science.
“It’s symptomatic of the way the government is working these days and not filling the critical role of NOAA administrator,” said Robert Ryan, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, who supports the nomination of Mr. Myers.
Mr. Trump has declared that his own “natural instinct” is preferable to the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet at a dangerous pace. Last week Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, the acting head of the agency, said at a scientific conference that he had never briefed Mr. Trump on climate change.
At his confirmation hearing last year, Mr. Myers acknowledged that humans are the primary cause of global warming. He supports the federal scientific reports on climate science, which Mr. Trump has said he does not believe.
Mr. Myers told Congress he would step down from his position and sell his AccuWeather shares and options if confirmed. But the company, which Mr. Myers’s brother founded, would remain a family-owned firm, and many Democrats are concerned it would be a conflict of interest.
The sense that the agency is faring well without a Senate-confirmed leader has also decreased the urgency for a vote. A retired Navy oceanographer, Admiral Gallaudet has steered the agency through two hurricane seasons. It was lauded for accurate tracking of Hurricane Florence in September, which gave residents several days to evacuate from the Carolinas.
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Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman
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