State Politics

Berger’s science adviser gets environmental job at UNC

Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate, said last year that any member of his staff would have his strong support and recommendation.
Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate, said last year that any member of his staff would have his strong support and recommendation.

Jeffrey Warren, science adviser to Senate leader Phil Berger, has been named research director for the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For months, Warren had been rumored to be in line for a high-level job with the new entity, which was created last year by the legislature. His hire was announced Monday on the collaboratory’s website.

The collaboratory, in which scientists will collaborate on research and policy, was created in last year’s budget with $1 million in annual state funding, plus $3.5 million in public startup funds if the university can raise matching money.

Warren will report to Brad Ives, director of the collaboratory, who also serves as the university’s chief sustainability officer and associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises. Warren started the job Monday and has an annual salary of $175,000.

“Jeff’s relationships and experience at both the General Assembly and across state government will be great assets in the future work of the Collaboratory,” Ives said in the announcement on the website. “We have already made great strides in project development over the last six months and will be gearing up, with Jeff’s help, to do substantial work to apply the scientific expertise of the University of North Carolina system to the needs of North Carolina and its citizens in the area of natural resources management.”

Warren has degrees in geology or geosciences from the University of Arizona and Auburn University. He has a Ph.D. in geological sciences from UNC.

He had been science policy adviser to Berger’s office since 2011. Before that he worked for the Division of Coastal Management within the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality as a coastal hazards specialist. He has been an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. Before that he held a number of positions in the private sector, including a position as a development geologist with Phillips Petroleum for about two years in the late 1990s.

Warren has helped rewrite North Carolina’s environmental legislation, loosening regulations and limiting local authority on some controls. New laws in the past five years have opened the door to fracking, defined how sea-level rise can be measured and allowed the construction of “terminal groins,” or hard structures that protect coastal property.

When asked last year whether Warren was a candidate for the UNC job, Berger said any member of his staff would have his strong support and recommendation.

“I have received numerous complaints about the existing philosophical and partisan homogeneity at UNC, where professors registered as Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of roughly 12 to one,” Berger said in an email last August. “On several occasions I have recommended highly-qualified conservative candidates for positions at UNC and within the university system, and, to my knowledge, none have been hired to date.”

That appears to be changing. Warren is the university’s second high-profile hire of a Republican leader’s staff member recently. In January, UNC hired Clayton Somers, the former chief of staff of House Speaker Tim Moore, as vice chancellor of public affairs and secretary of the university. The position was newly created, and Somers has an annual salary of $280,000.

Email records reviewed by The News & Observer showed that faculty at UNC had raised questions about the university’s involvement in the collaboratory, with some expressing concern about academic freedom and independent science. Environmental groups have brought up similar concerns.

At the direction of the legislation, the collaboratory has undertaken a six-year study of nutrient management strategies for North Carolina’s Jordan Lake and Falls Lake and a two-year review of aquaculture and the economics and ecology of increasing oyster harvests. An interim report on the nutrient management study was sent to the General Assembly in December.

The collaboratory also hired a community outreach liaison and has a nine-member advisory board of faculty from various fields. So far, the board has approved two projects related to Hurricane Matthew and a third to study wild fires in Western North Carolina.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill