House Oversight hearing follow-up: More news and editorial coverage


Excerpts from news coverage of the January 30 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on allegations of political interference with federal climate scientists, including our participation in the hearing, by NBC Nightly News, ScienceNOW Daily News (Science magazine), the Financial Times (UK), Voice of America News, National Journal’s Congress Daily, and Associated Press/Burlington Free Press; also, a “reality-based” editorial in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, and one in Newsday (N.Y.) 

See also:

NBC Nightly News

January 30, 2007
6:30 PM EST

Congress hearing allegations of political pressure on government scientists to downplay threat of global warming


The question in Washington today was this: Did the Bush administration in any way try to cook the books on the topic of global warming? Government scientists were called before a congressional committee today and asked if the White House or anyone else ever tried to stifle or squelch or silence the evidence that climate change is taking place around the globe. What happened today is a direct result of the last election. There is a new urgency these days on Capitol Hill where the Democrats in charge say the reality out there is worse than the reports they’ve been getting. And they say the time to fix it is running very short. We begin tonight in our Washington newsroom with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

…Government scientists have been complaining for two years that the Bush administration has been forcing them to soft-pedal their findings on global warming, but now Democrats have the clout to demand answers.
With Democrats holding the gavel in both houses, advocacy groups were given the chance to present a new study revealing unprecedented and widespread interference with scientific reports, largely by a former oil industry lobbyist working for the White House.

HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform): They tried to delete a discussion of the human health and environmental effects of climate change.

MITCHELL: Documents uncovered by the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group, reveal that critical findings were eliminated from draft reports. Questions like “Is abrupt climate change real?” And “What is the relationship between the drought in the West and climate variability and change? ” Both crossed out. With a handwritten note, “It is not necessary here to list these examples.”
Mr. RICK PILTZ (Former Climate Change Senior Associate): It wasn’t just policy, it was spinning the scientific–the state of knowledge.

MITCHELL: A survey of more than 300 scientists in seven agencies studying climate change found nearly half were personally pressured to eliminate the words “climate change” or “global warming.”

Dr. FRANCESCA GRIFO (Union of Concerned Scientists): Our investigations found high quality science struggling to get out….

MITCHELL: Who watered down most of the government reports? The scientists point to Philip Cooney, a former oil lobbyist in charge of the Bush policy who then left to work for ExxonMobil. He refused to talk to NBC News today.

Ms. CAROL BROWNER (Clinton Environmental Protection Agency Administrator): The idea that a former oil lobbyist would be allowed to edit a scientific document from one of the agencies is simply inexcusable….

MITCHELL: Tonight the Bush administration told NBC News `Claims that the administration interfered with the scientists are false, and our focus is on making action and taking real progress.’ But many Republicans and Democrats in Congress want to see a lot more.
Copyright 2007 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.

ScienceNOW Daily News

30 January 2007

A Congressman Brandishes His Gavel

By Eli Kintisch

WASHINGTON, D.C.– In an indication of Democratic eagerness to investigate whether the Bush administration has interfered with federal global warming research, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) today charged the White House with “an orchestrated effort to mislead the public.” Waxman, who this month became chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, says his staff has found evidence that scientific reports were manipulated for political ends despite efforts by the Administration to block recent requests for information.

Nonprofit groups and a prominent whistleblower have alleged for several years that White House political appointees have distorted federally funded climate science. The whistleblower, former Administration climate change program official Rick Piltz, said in 2005 that former White House Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Philip Cooney manufactured doubt and uncertainty in a number of reports by the Administration. A number of the incidents have been reported previously. A call to the White House was unreturned at press time.

At the hearing, Waxman cited several White House documents in support of his allegations….Among those documents, Waxman said, was evidence showing efforts by political officials including Cooney to delete discussion of human impacts by climate change, remove mention of specific carbon emission levels, and remove statements connecting human activities to warming trends. The documents related to a 2002 Climate Action report to the United Nations, a draft of the 2003 State of the Environment report by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Asia-Pacific partnership the Administration led in 2005. “The political gatekeepers would step in” to alter findings and create doubt, Piltz testified.

In one edit Waxman’s staff says they saw, Cooney had removed a reference to the 2001 National Research Council report on the human contribution to warming. Elsewhere, he had added that “satellite data disputes global warming,” a statement NASA climate researcher Drew Shindell of Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City told the committee was wrong.

Another witness, University of Colorado environmental studies professor Roger Pielke Jr., described what he called “heavy-handed Bush Administration information management” on a number of climate policy issues. But Pielke said past Administrations had acted in a similar fashion, citing among other things poor scientific evidence by the Clinton Administration to justify missile strikes in 1998 on the Al-Shifa factory in Sudan. Waxman plans to hold follow-up hearings, but no date has been set.

Copyright 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Financial Times (UK)

January 31 2007

Bush “distorted” climate change reports
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington and Fiona Harvey in London

The Bush administration has routinely suppressed or distorted communication of climate change science to the public, a climate specialist at NASA’s Goddard Institute said on Tuesday.

The accusation, before the chief oversight committee in the House of Representatives, was reinforced by claims by Democratic lawmakers that the White House was withholding documents proving that Philip Cooney, a former Bush administration official who now works as a lobbyist for ExxonMobil, regularly edited climate reports for political reasons.

“We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming and minimising the potential dangers,” said Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the oversight committee…..

Mr Piltz testified that the administration systematically attempted to “bury” a “national assessment” report that had been published during the Clinton administration that analysed the consequences of climate variability on the US.

He also accused Mr Cooney of editing reports that had already been drafted and approved by scientists in a way that added an “enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty about global warming”.

ExxonMobil said on Tuesday that Mr Cooney was not giving interviews.

The testimony risks embarrassing the Bush administration ahead of the release on Friday of a landmark report on climate change science that will say there is a 90 per cent certainty that human activity is changing the worlds climate and temperatures will rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. It paints the most dramatic and comprehensive picture yet of a future of heatwaves, droughts and floods.

Copyright 2007 The Financial Times Ltd

Voice of America News

January 30, 2007

Climate Change Scientists, Officials Testify on Allegations of Administration Interference

DATELINE: Washington

Current and former government scientists and officials have testified to a congressional committee about what they call Bush administration efforts to downplay scientific evidence of global warming. VOA’s Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The allegations are not new, but this was the first time key individuals have appeared in person to detail what a new report calls an atmosphere of systematic political interference with climate change science.

Two private groups, the Government Accountability Project and Union of Concerned Scientists, say 1,600 climate scientists surveyed reported at least 435 occurrences of such interference over the past five years.

Nearly half of those responding said they perceived, or personally experienced, pressure to eliminate the words climate change from reports and communications, along with new or unusual administrative requirements impairing climate-related work….

In 2005, documents emerged showing that a White House official and former oil industry lobbyist personally edited government reports to play down links between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The controversy over the actions of Philip Cooney, then chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has colored the debate over administration policies regarding climate change.

Rick Piltz, formerly of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, took a public stand at the time accusing the Bush administration of trying to suppress the views of government scientists. “I came increasingly to the conclusion that the administration was acting to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implications for society and that the politicization of climate science communication by the administration was undermining the credibility and integrity of the climate change science program,” he said.

Drew Shindell, an atmospheric physicist and climate researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, accuses the administration of attempting to suppress scientific findings. “Suppression of scientific evidence has undermined the trust between the public and policymakers, and between scientists and policymakers. Cases where scientific uncertainties were exaggerated by political appointees have been equally troubling,” he said.

Democrats controlling Congress have made the issue of global warming a key part of their agenda in the 110th Congress, and will likely be helped by the report released on Tuesday….

In addition to the survey of scientists, the 92-page report that was a focus of the hearing was based on some 2,000 documents from agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It concludes, among other things, that until political interference in climate science ends, the United States will not be able to fully protect Americans and the world from the dangers of a warming planet.

The report urges Congress to strengthen whistleblower laws to specifically protect federal scientists. These scientists, the report says, should be able to conduct their work and communicate their findings without interference.

Copyright 2007 Federal Information and News Dispatch, Inc.

National Journal’s Congress Daily (subscription)

January 30, 2007

Panel Steamed Over Withheld Documents

The Bush administration’s incomplete response to a House committee’s request for documents related to a hearing today on global climate change is leaving lawmakers and staff from both parties warm under the collar.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Waxman requested documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, hoping to use them to underscore the suggestion that the administration has a habit of editing scientific reports to downplay the effects of global warming.

By presstime Monday, documents that were requested as recently as last week and as far back as six months ago had not been provided to the committee.

“Right now, the administration’s reaction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Waxman’s chief of staff Phil Schiliro said Monday afternoon. “We’ve been trying to get information that we believe the committee should have for six months now. We don’t understand why it hasn’t been provided; this isn’t top secret information.”

A spokesman for Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Thomas Davis, R-Va., also sounded miffed about the difficulty in obtaining documents. “We’re still trying to get them and not happy about it,” the spokesman said….

At least some new evidence will be presented at today’s hearing but not necessarily from the committee. Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, will testify about a report the group is releasing today with the Government Accountability Project that includes evidence that the White House has politicized climate-change reports under President Bush, a spokeswoman for the group said….

A Republican witness, University of Colorado scientist Roger Pielke, said he will tell the committee that politics and science have been intermingling for years. “It’s not a good thing. It’s a reality,” he said Monday. “It is very common.”

Among the examples he said he would cite are President Richard Nixon going against NASA to delay the launch of the Apollo 17 moon mission because an accident might have hurt his 1972 re-election chances, and President Bill Clinton’s 1998 decision to launch a missile strike on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that was based on evidence later found to be inconclusive….

The committee will also hear from Rick Piltz, former senior associate at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. He resigned in March 2005 after accusing White House officials of interfering with climate change reports and instituting questionable reviews of scientific research.

Copyright 2007 National Journal Group, Inc.

Associated Press

January 31, 2007

Welch: Interference in science “stunning”

BURLINGTON, Vt. — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch says it was a “stunning personal experience” to hear federal scientists say they had been stymied from talking about climate change.

“There was a story about a scientist who got authorized to speak at a conference. He was prohibited from using the phrase ‘global warming.’ He was allowed to say ‘global,’ and he could say ‘warming,’ but he couldn’t put them next to each other. It became a charade,” Welch said.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which Welch serves, is holding hearings on the administration’s handling of the global warming issue. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the administration appeared to want “to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming.”

Welch said he had read about scientists being muzzled, but, “It’s a stunning personal experience to hear directly from scientists whose life work has been compromised, who live in fear of retaliation or compromised careers if they adhere to their code of ethics as scientists.”

The comments came as two advocacy groups — the Government Accountability Project and the Union of Concerned Scientists — shared findings with the committee from a survey of about 300 government scientists.

The survey found nearly half the scientists had seen or experienced pressure to delete words like “global warming” from written material. About 40 percent said thad had seen changes to materials that changed their scientific meanings.

The White House maintains it was trying to bring balance to reports on global warming.

Information from: The Burlington Free Press Copyright 2007 Associated Press.

Charlotte Observer

Posted on Fri, Feb. 02, 2007

Muzzling scientists
Political effort to distort climate facts is just plain scary

…With a subject as potentially threatening to the world as global warming, we want our government policymakers to have the best scientific knowledge available at the time.

And scary as the prospect is of swamped coastal cities, it’s even scarier to learn President Bush’s administration tried to muzzle federal scientists whose findings didn’t support Republicans who were pooh-poohing the existence of, or causes for, global warming.

At congressional hearings this week, witnesses testified the administration tried to weaken or delay scientific findings about global warming and its effects. One witness, Rick Piltz, said he resigned in protest from the federal Climate Change Science Program after he concluded the administration’s goal was to “impede” public and congressional understanding of climate science, according to The New York Times.

A NASA scientist said a report predicting warming in Antarctica was “repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down” and he was told it was because two political appointees and the White House reviewed all climate-related press releases.

A survey given to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that of 279 federal climate scientists who answered a mailed questionnaire, 43 percent said they had personally experienced or perceived pressure to take “climate change” or global warming out of their communications.

What kind of leader wants to get bad science, just so his politics won’t look silly?

Author Ron Suskind, in a 2004 article about President Bush in the New York Times magazine, described a 2002 conversation with a senior White House aide. The aide had disparaged Mr. Suskind, saying he and other journalists were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which the aide defined as people who, like Mr. Suskind, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” The implication was that the White House had moved beyond the need to study reality. That does seem to explain some things, doesn’t it?

At least we can rest assured no administration would be so foolhardy as to try to delay, impede or weaken information about something that might cost thousands of American lives, like, say, invading Iraq and how many troops would be needed to secure the country.
Who’d be that reckless?

copyright 2007 Charlotte Observer

Newsday (N.Y.)

Sacrificing science
White House puts political goals first, watchdog group surveys show

February 3, 2007

When dealing with challenges of a technical sort – global warming for instance – science should guide our politics. Rigorous empiricism is the best way to marshal relevant facts and make sound policy decisions. Unfortunately the process has been turned on its head since President George W. Bush took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

There is convincing anecdotal evidence that, with Bush at the helm, “science has been increasingly tailored to reflect political goals rather than scientific fact.” That’s the conclusion of the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, after surveying hundreds of government climate scientists. The scientists complained, in large numbers, of pressure to eliminate the words “climate change” and “global warming” from their communications. They reported editing by administration officials that changed the meaning of scientific findings. And they noted that materials relating to climate have a way of disappearing from government Web sites.

The findings were buttressed by the Government Accountability Project, another nonprofit group that conducted related interviews and document searches….

Copyright Newsday Inc.

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