CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) — Virginia’s state climatologist, whose doubts about global warming and utility-industry funding made him a lightning rod on climate-change issues, quietly left his position over the summer.
Patrick J. Michaels, who held the position since 1980, remains as a part-time research professor on leave at the University of Virginia, reported Joseph C. Zieman, chairman of the school’s Department of Environmental Sciences, to the Daily Progress of Charlottesville.
Mr. Michaels has been a leading skeptic of global-warming theories. Although he thinks global warming is real and influenced by humans, he contends it is caused primarily by natural forces.
The administration of Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, asked Mr. Michaels last year to refrain from using his title when conducting non-state business because of fears his views would be perceived as an official state position.
The governor’s office said Mr. Michaels, appointed by Gov. John N. Dalton, a Republican, was not a gubernatorial appointee, contending that the climatology office became UVa.’s domain in 2000.
Mr. Michaels, 57, called his resignation a sad result of the fact that his state climatologist funding had become politicized, compromising his academic freedom.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “I don’t think anybody was able to come to a satisfactory agreement about academic freedom.”
George Allen, a friend of Mr. Michaels, twice intervened on matters involving funding for Mr. Michaels’ office, once as governor and again as a U.S. senator.
In 1994, Mr. Allen restored a cut of more than $100,000 to Mr. Michaels’ office that was proposed by his predecessor, Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat. As a senator eight years later, Mr. Allen, a Republican, rescued Mr. Michaels’ office from other proposed cuts that Mr. Michaels said would have wiped out his funding.
Democrats, top scientists and environmental advocates also maintain that Mr. Michaels’ reliance on large utility company contributions for private research was a conflict of interest.
Last summer, the Associated Press reported that a Colorado utility raised at least $150,000 in donations and pledges to help Mr. Michaels analyze global-warming research by other scientists.
In July, Mr. Michaels withdrew as an expert witness for the auto industry in a high-profile case in federal court in Vermont rather than disclose his funding sources. He said he was hired by the Automobile Manufacturers Association and that his donors had information that they wanted to remain confidential.
“Global warming science is a controversial area, and those who do not believe that anthropogenic [human-caused] greenhouse gas emissions will inevitably result in extreme climatologic outcomes are often subject to public attack,” Mr. Michaels stated in an affidavit to the court.
The state climatologist’s office provides information and conducts research on the effects of weather and climate on economic and ecological systems.
University spokesman Fariss Samarrai said Jerry Stenger, who has worked in the climatology office for more than two decades, assumed Mr. Michaels’ duties, but not the title of state climatologist.
Mr. Michaels said he will continue his position at the libertarian-conservative Cato Institute in the District, where he works while on leave from UVa.
“I feel I can speak more freely,” he said.