Of significant concern to GAP and frighteningly reminiscent of the George W. Bush Administration, the Trump Administration is staffed by high-level personnel with oil industry connections and climate change denialist views mirroring those of the new President. In response, as just announced in The Washington Post, today GAP officially launched our latest White Paper, entitled: Promoting and Sustaining the National Climate Assessment After a Period of Suppression and Political Influence: A Cautionary Tale.
Below follows the foreword of the Paper, written by GAP Executive Director & CEO Louis Clark:
In the spring of 2005 Rick Piltz first contacted me. He had several questions related to government wrongdoing that he hoped I would help him to address. As a top editor of science publications at the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), Piltz was responsible for producing the public and Congressional reports about the scientific findings that were emerging from the $2 billion worth of federal taxpayer funds directed toward climate change research. He did not seek my counsel about whether he should blow the whistle on the corruption that he had observed. He had already decided to do that and to resign. He no longer wanted to associate with those who were engaged with the suppression of vital scientific information and findings. As he eloquently stated:
“I did not want to be associated in any way with that charade. Furthermore, I was deeply offended that they actually thought I would be willing to participate in the manipulation of scientific results…When this guy’s edits came to me, there was part of me that said: ‘Who do you think you’re dealing with? Do you think I’m one of you
I’m not one of you.’”
He merely needed help in determining how best to blow the whistle for maximum impact while simultaneously incurring the least possible personal liability.
Over the next few months we (although mostly Rick) poured over tens of thousands of pages of documents that he had accumulated while working at USGCRP for nearly a decade. It was astonishing to examine the methodical hand-written White House edits of the climate science reports. The audacious editor was Phil Cooney, who served as Chief of Staff of the White House Counsel on Environmental Quality. He was an attorney, not a scientist. Before landing at the White House he had been the top lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute. As one might expect, Cooney’s meticulous edits primarily made it seem more questionable as to whether climate change was even happening or, if it was occurring, whether human activity was contributing to it. As disturbing as those edits were, there were even sections of the reports, such as those dealing with the Arctic, that were crossed out altogether, as if there were no research results at all from those areas despite the spending of multi-millions of federal dollars on those studies.
It did not take me but a second to realize that those dumbed-down White House edits were the smoking guns that would demonstrate what was happening throughout the federal government. Political forces had embraced an economic ideology around oil and cleverly managed to control and manage science reporting on climate through public relations manipulations and overt threats within most federal agencies dealing with climate science. Clearly those sensational edits would and did catapult the story onto the front page of The New York Times, landed Rick in a featured segment on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and provided impressive material for numerous environmental documentaries. In fact, according to an Oxford University study, his disclosure influenced the way in which journalists reported about climate science thereafter: Rick played a leading role in helping to shift the discussion away from a battle of so-called experts toward recognizing scientific consensus.
These White House revelations earned Rick the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling and years of fame, not just fifteen minutes. He devoted the next nine years and the rest of his life to challenging climate science deniers and exposing the suppression of climate science wherever he could uncover it. But it was the sinister suppression of the National Climate Assessment of 2000 that remained for him the biggest climate-related scandal of the George W. Bush Administration.
This paper is appropriately dedicated to Rick Piltz because it tells the story of what happened with that assessment and subsequent ones. It is framed as a cautionary tale as a warning to us all about what could happen yet again, especially as a new administration takes over the levers of power at the disposal of those who run the Executive Branch of the federal government, headed by a President who campaigned on the theme that the scientific consensus on climate was a hoax concocted by the Chinese and has similarly installed in his transition team high-level personnel with oil industry connections and similar “denialist” views on the reality of climate change.
As Rick Piltz repeatedly showed, never has one nation spent more funds on discovering scientific truths and then done so much to suppress the knowledge that those endeavors had revealed. His admonishment to us that this must never again happen provides an incentive to all of us not to allow history to repeat. Here at the Government Accountability Project where Rick served as a program leader, we have devoted decades of effort to shoring up the rights of federal employees, government contractors and scientists. No longer can agency public relations departments threaten or gag employees from speaking out about problems or scientists from reporting openly and accurately about their findings. In fact, it is now illegal to suppress such reports and bosses can be sanctioned for violations. Furthermore, federal employees and federal contractors can now refuse to obey illegal orders.
In other words, it is a new day. In fact, when the transition team at the Department of Energy recently demanded the names of any employee who had attended climate change conferences, federal government officials quickly pushed back. They not only refused to comply with the highly threatening, but absurd demand, they even instructed their science and engineering employees to protect their findings from such political threats. Our offices as well received calls from federal employees who assured us that they too would resist this type of coercion. Hopefully this paper will remain a mere historical reflection upon a dark and embarrassing time when a series of draconian incidents allowed science to be overwhelmed by political science. If efforts to suppress scientific findings on climate again becomes both policy and practice, hopefully this paper will help us identify familiar patterns and publicly expose “clear and present dangers,” as well as rally new whistleblowers and other forces of enlightenment to fight back. If they do, I predict that these new climate deniers and fossil fuel devotees and sycophants will once again see their efforts stymied and their legacies swept into the dustbin of history.”
Louis Clark is Executive Director and CEO of the Government Accountability Project.