CNN DOWNGRADES SCIENCE, SPACE, AND TECHNOLOGY…. When I first heard yesterday that Miles O’Brien, CNN’s chief technology and environment correspondent for years, was leaving the network, and CNN was scrapping its science, space, and technology unit, I was deeply disappointed. Now would be the ideal time to bolster the unit, not get rid of it.

CNN, however, said there’s nothing to worry about. A spokesperson for the network said it will incorporate science/environment/tech reporting into the general editorial structure. “Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is part of the AC360 program, there is no need for a separate unit,” a spokesperson said.

The reassurances aren’t reassuring.

[T]he big question, of course, is whether or not the reorganization will decrease the overall amount of CNN’s science, technology, and environment coverage. CNN says no, but it’s hard to imagine that it won’t — Anderson Cooper or not, fewer people is fewer people.

What’s more, the decision to eliminate the positions seems particularly misguided at a time when world events would seem to warrant expanding science and environmental staff.

“It’s disheartening,” said Christy George, who is president of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has worked closely there with Peter Dykstra, CNN’s outgoing executive producer for science and technology. “For the last year or two, television has, in general, been making a commitment to beefing up its environmental coverage.” In particular, clean energy has moved to center stage in our global political and economic discourse, and President-elect Barack Obama recently reaffirmed his commitment to tackling climate change. “There is going to be a lot to cover in science, technology, and environment,” George pointed out, “and it’s not going to be enough to just cover the politics of it to keep people informed.”

Indeed, others who know the CNN science staff agree that the network is making a bad decision. “I’m baffled,” said Keith Cowing, who runs and has been a friend of CNN’s Miles O’Brien for years.

Just a few days ago, CNN talked about its plans to challenge the Associated Press as a wire service. And yet, now it’s planning to do this without science/tech reporters? Odd.

Everything about this move seems to be a mistake. As Kevin noted, “Environmental reporting, whether produced by Anderson Cooper or not, could use more reporters, not fewer, and science reporting in general is likely to become more important now that we have a president waiting in the wings who doesn’t think of it as just another obstacle to be overcome on his way to dismantling the regulation of the moment.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.