Study Finds White House Manipulation on Climate Science

Article excerpt

At least since 2003, and especially after hurricane Katrina hit, the White House has broadly attempted to control which climate scientists could speak with reporters, as well as editing scientists' congressional testimony on climate science and key legal opinions, according to a new report by a House committee.

"The Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policy makers and the public about the dangers of global warming," said the report, which is the result of a 16-month probe by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "The White House exerted unusual control over the public statements of federal scientists on climate change issues."

To some observers, the House investigation, which drew on 27,000 documents gathered from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the US Department of Commerce, is notable as the most comprehensive assessment so far of alleged manipulation of climate science by this White House. It includes previously unknown elements - such as a 2003 incident in which it says top presidential environment adviser James Connaughton personally helped edit the Environmental Protection Agency's draft legal opinion that denied the agency had authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. (That EPA position was reversed by the US Supreme Court in a ruling this spring.)

Yet much of the material in the House committee report, which was released Monday, corroborates press accounts and congressional testimony that has dribbled out over the past few years. The White House and House Republicans strongly dispute the report, which is expected to be adopted as the House report. A White House spokesman describes it as "rehashed and recycled rhetoric."

But not Rick Piltz, director of the climate-science watch program at the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog organization. He and others say that while many presidents have shaped policy, the White House's efforts this time were about more than organizing a coherent policy message.

"What this report does is really show the extent to which communications - press releases and contacts with the media - all had to be routed through the CEQ," he says.

The report also concluded that the White House:

* Was "particularly active in stifling [scientists'] discussions of the link between increased hurricane intensity and global warming."

* Sought "to minimize the significance and certainty of climate change by extensively editing government climate change reports."

* Edited "EPA legal opinions as well as newspaper opinion articles on climate change. …