“Bush administration censorship key issue in next Congress”

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Nearly a year after NASA climatologist James Hansen accused federal officials of censoring his views on global warming, scientific freedom is shaping up as a key issue for the next Congress, Environment & Energy Daily reported in its #1 story on November 17.  We said to E&E Daily:  “Mr. Waxman and Mr. Gordon [incoming chairs of the House Government Reform and Science committees] have both been on the case, even as ranking members in the current Congress. I don’t think they’re going to be stonewalled without some kind of response.” We also expect legislation that would offer federal scientists improved whistleblower protections.

Bush admin ‘censorship’ key issue in next Congress
Environment & Energy Daily, Nov. 17, 2006 (by subscription)
Lauren Morello, E&E Daily reporter

The article leads with:

Nearly a year after NASA climatologist James Hansen accused federal officials of censoring his views on global warming, scientific freedom is shaping up as a key issue for the next Congress.

Since Hansen aired his complaint in January, reports have surfaced of additional scientific censorship and suppression at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. EPA, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies.

While a core group of lawmakers—largely Democrats—have called for independent investigations of such reports by the Government Accountability Office and agency inspector generals, their oversight efforts were limited by Republican leaders. But that is poised to change in the next Congress, when Democrats regain control of the House and the Senate, lawmakers and other experts said.

We talked with Lauren Morello about the incoming Democratic House committee chairs.  She writes:

“Democrats are not going to sweep this issue under the rug,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). “If the administration tries to censor scientists or sweep science under the rug, they’re not going to get away with it.”

In September, Waxman released internal Commerce Department e-mail messages that suggest federal officials sought to prevent a NOAA scientist from speaking to journalists about a potential link between global warming and hurricanes.

Waxman is also the current ranking member and incoming chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Under the leadership of current Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee has repeatedly sought information of the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s handling of key government reports on climate science (Greenwire, Sept. 21).

Waxman said he plans to continue pressing the Bush administration on reported scientific censorship in the next Congress, when he takes the reins of the Government Reform panel. “We’ll continue to stay on top of it,” he said. “If you don’t have the right facts, you can’t make good [policy] decisions.”

“We’re expecting big things out of Waxman’s committee,” said Jay Dyckman, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, which tracks reported scientific censorship through its Knowledge Project. “One big-scale investigation would have a ripple effect. It’ll be very exciting these first six months” of the next Congress….

[I]ncoming Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.)…with current Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) has worked with NASA and NOAA officials to revise those agencies’ media policies to ensure scientists freedom to express their views publicly.

For their part, the heads of both agencies have repeatedly stated their support for scientific openness.

“Mr. Waxman and Mr. Gordon have both been on the case, even as ranking members in the current Congress,” said Rick Piltz, director of the advocacy group Climate Science Watch. “I don’t think they’re going to be stonewalled without some kind of response” from the Bush administration.

Piltz also predicted that the House would see the introduction of legislation that would offer federal scientists improved whistleblower protections, akin to Waxman’s H.R. 839, which did not see committee action this Congress.

And on the focus on climate change:

Overall, the censorship issue is likely to benefit from the Democrats’ intent to aggressively pursue climate legislation, since many reported incidents of scientific suppression at federal agencies have involved climatologists, said National Coalition Against Censorship’s Dyckman.

Global warming “gets so much press. It’s so much in the public eye,” Dyckman said. “Hopefully then the other issues at agencies like EPA will sort of piggyback onto that.”

Echoing that position was Piltz, who called climate change “a monster of a challenge.”

“Probably justifiably it grabs the center stage of people’s attention,” Piltz said. “But it draws the attention to these other issues, too. It manifests the pattern of government interference with science and scientific communication.”

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