CSW director: White House under Clinton-Gore “was not at war with the mainstream science community”

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In an article on the House Oversight Committee majority report on White House political interference with climate change science, released December 10, the Christian Science Monitor reports: “Rick Piltz, director of the climate science watch program at the Government Accountability Project…[says] the White House’s efforts this time were about more than organizing a coherent policy message.” No administration is above criticism, but under the previous administration the White House “was not at war with the mainstream science community.”

See our December 10 post: “House Oversight report on administration political interference with climate change science” 

Christian Science Monitor
from the December 12, 2007 edition
Read the full article here.
Excerpts:

Study finds White House manipulation on climate science

The White House has misled the public on climate science, a congressional report says.

By Mark Clayton | Staff writer

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.”…

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….

“We think this report is a thinly veiled attempt to distract attention from the administration’s efforts to advance its commitment to the pursuit of sound environment, energy, and economic policy at the Bali summit,” says Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman.

Concerning Connaughton’s reported involvement in crafting an EPA legal opinion, she said that was not surprising.

“The finding that he was involved in the drafting of an EPA opinion is hardly news,” Ms. Lawrimore says. “He’s the adviser to the president on environmental policy, and it would be odd if he didn’t offer his thoughts and input on environmental law and policy.”

Mr. Piltz sees it differently. He served under the Bush administration until spring 2005, when he resigned and exposed White House editing of the national climate assessment. As a senior staffer with the US Climate Change Science Program, he also served under President Clinton and saw marked contrasts between the two. “It’s true that every administration has its own policy, and there’s always a tendency to shade your communications,” Piltz says. “But the difference here is that the White House science office under previous administrations was not at war with the mainstream science community.”

Rick Piltz note:
To elaborate just a bit, the reporter had asked me something along the lines of, what do you say in response to the question: In the activities that are documented in the House Oversight Committee report, is this administration really different from other administrations?

I can speak from the experience of having worked in the coordination office of the federal climate research program under both of the last two administrations. I won’t bother here with responding to the White House spokesperson spin doctor du jour, but on the respective roles of the Executive Offices:

Under the Clinton-Gore administration, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) environmental science directorate was notable for being headed by well-respected scientists, adopting the IPCC mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, carrying it into the administration, and supporting the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts. Under Bush-Cheney, OSTP has had less environmental scientific stature, less influence, has been less communicative, has shown a general unwillingness to strongly and clearly articulate and carry forward the IPCC consensus, and rolled over in complicity with the suppression of the National Assessment.

In addition, and most relevant in the context of the House Oversight and Reform Committee majority report released on December 10, under Clinton-Gore, OSTP was the most influential White House liaison to the climate science research program (leaving aside the Office of Management and Budget for purposes here), while the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a policy shop, stayed on the policy side of the fence. Under Bush-Cheney, CEQ has been much more aggressive and powerful than OSTP, lawyer-politicians at CEQ have been directly involved in policing the science program, vetting and policing climate science communication, inducing anticipatory self-censorship in federal agency professionals, and in general, being at war with the mainstream climate science community.

 

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