House Panel Investigates Bush's Climate Science Manipulations

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 20, 2007 (ENS) White House documents released Monday by a House committee offer further evidence that Bush administration officials with no scientific training edited federal scientific reports to inflate uncertainty about humanity's role in global warming.

The documents are part of an ongoing investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into alleged political interference with climate science and federal scientists by the Bush administration.

"Our goal in this investigation is to understand what role the White House actually played," Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said at Monday's hearing. "It would be a serious abuse if senior White House officials deliberately tried to defuse calls for action by ensuring that the public heard a distorted message about the risks of climate change."


Congressman Henry Waxman of California describes himself as a longtime defender of the environment. Today he introduced the Safe Climate Act of 2007, which sets binding emissions targets for greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
Waxman said the eight boxes of documents turned over by the Bush administration thus far suggest there "may have been a concerted effort directed by the White House to mislead the public about the dangers of global warming."

Much of the hearing focused on edits to federal reports by Philip Cooney, an oil industry lobbyist who served as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, CEQ, from 2001-2005.

Documents released by the committee show Cooney and other administration officials made at least 181 edits to the administration's strategic plan for the climate change science program to exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties, as well as 113 edits to downplay the importance of humanity's role in global warming.

In addition, White House documents show similar editing by Cooney and other administration officials to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on the health of the environment and an annual state of the planet report submitted to Congress.

Cooney, who resigned in June 2005 following reports of his controversial editing by the "New York Times," defended his actions before the committee.


Greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming are given off into the atmosphere by cars, trucks, boats, locomotives and aircraft. (Photo credit unknown)
"I had the authority and responsibility to make recommendations to the documents in question, under an established interagency review process," said Cooney, a lawyer who now works for ExxonMobil.

Cooney said he relied largely on the findings of the 2001 report on climate science by National Academy of Sciences to "align these communications" with administration policy.

"I offered my comments in good faith reliance on what I understood to be the most authoritative and current states of scientific knowledge," Cooney told the panel.

Cooney's actions were intended to "sow confusion regarding the link between climate change and human activity," said Representative Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat.

Representative John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, called Cooney "a spin doctor" and raised concerns about his close ties to the oil industry.

Cooney joined the CEQ after for more than a decade as a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, API, an organization that has cast doubt on the human role in climate change.

The role Cooney played at API and at the White House "seem virtually identical," Waxman said. "In both places, you seem to seed doubt on global warming," he told Cooney.

power plant

The Mandalay power plant in California burns oil and natural gas. (Photo courtesy Joe Virnig)
Democrats also questioned a memo between Cooney and an aide in Vice President Dick Cheney's office that suggests an administration strategy to promote a study partially funded by API that questioned the link between global warming and greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

The study, published in the journal "Climate Research" in 2001, was widely refuted by climate scientists and half the editorial board of the journal resigned in protest over its publication.

The communication between the CEQ and Cheney's office indicates an attempt to incorporate the study into federal reports, said Waxman.

"This sounds like a play right out of the petroleum institute's playbook," he said.

CEQ Chairman James Connaughton rejected Waxman's characterization of the administration's actions and called the investigation of Cooney's edits "misguided."

For the documents in question "there was actually massive agreement on more than 99 percent" of the text, Connaughton told the committee. "[This] is much ado about a very small amount of qualification."

Republicans on the panel spent most of their time grilling Dr. James Hansen, a prominent climate scientist who has criticized the Bush administration for interfering with climate scientists.

Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says political appointees tried to stop him from speaking to the media after he delivered a lecture in late 2005 that urged rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming.


Dr. James Hansen heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies), a part of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. (Photo courtesy The Earth Institute)
"We've developed this politicization of science," Hansen said. "Public affairs offices should be staffed by professionals, not political appointees, or they become offices of propaganda."

"I shouldn't be required to parrot some company line," Hansen told the committee. "I should give the best information I have."

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said Hansen is "regularly the toast of the town" and is hardly having trouble getting his message out to the public.

Issa questioned Hansen's motivations, noting that he supported 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and also received a $250,000 prize from the Heinz Foundation in 2001.

The Heinz Awards are given annually to honor individuals working in areas important to the late Senator John Heinz, a Pennsylvania Republican, and are awarded by Heinz's widow, Teresa Heinz, who is now married to Kerry.

"His political activism is well-defined," Issa said of Hansen, adding that the climate scientist "clearly dislikes" the Bush administration."

Issa's comments drew a rebuke from Waxman.

"I think you are smearing Dr. Hansen's reputation," Waxman said. "I think you are being unfair to him."

Hansen noted that he is a registered Independent, adding that he would have voted for Senator John McCain in 2004 if the Arizona Republican had run for president.

Issa and other Republicans also questioned Hansen for previously equating the administration's efforts to control information echoed Nazi Germany.

Hansen has raised specific concerns about political appointees insisting they be allowed to review requests for interviews and monitor conversations with reporters, among other restrictions.

"Do you think Nazi Germany would have let you get away with ignoring these restrictions?" asked Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican.

Souder said the policy conclusions with regard to climate change have serious political overtones and consequences, adding that elected officials thus "do have some rights."

Hansen said he regretted the Nazi Germany comment, but defended his position on the administration's tactics.

"When you tell scientists they can't speak it doesn't ring true, it is not the American way and it was not constitutional," Hansen said.

"I do not specify policy - I do try to make clear the science that is relevant to policy and some of the implications of global warming for policy," Hansen added. "We cannot burn all the fossil fuels without producing a radically different planet."