By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow
“Frankly this report ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation,” said Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, when asked about the leaked draft of a Federal Climate Science Special Report (CSSR). Speaking on a Texas radio show on August 10, 2017, he added:
“Science should not be politicized. Science is not something that should be just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, DC.”
Funny he should say that. Pruitt himself has a well-established record of politicizing science. Furthermore, he sits on the National Science and Technology Council that has overseen production of the report, and his agency had already twice reviewed and approved earlier drafts. As for peer review, the National Academies of Sciences reviewed and praised an earlier draft.
Development of Report Overseen by Council Chaired by Trump and Includes Pruitt
The report was produced by the US Global Change Research Program, which is governed by the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR), a subcommittee of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability (CENRS), which in turn is part of the National Science and Technology Council. The NSTC is administered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Members of the SGCR, CENRS, and NSTC include representatives from the 13 federal agencies that fund research on global change (including, but not limited to, climate change) – including EPA. And at all levels of the NSTC, the Executive Office of the President has multiple representatives. Guess who represents EPA on the Council: none other than Scott Pruitt. And who chairs the council? President Donald Trump.
The subcommittee, including its EPA representative C. Andrew Miller (the Associate Director for climate research in EPA’s Office of Research and Development), approved two earlier drafts of the report. The first draft approved by the SGCR, near the end of the Obama Administration, was the so-called “second-order draft.” Following that draft, a third-order draft was produced in December 2016 for public review. Then, under the Trump Administration, a fourth-order draft was reviewed and approved by the SGCR. Finally, a fifth-order draft was produced for final review and clearance by the CENRS. It was submitted to OSTP, which sent the report to the SGCR for its third review and final clearance, rather than to the CENRS as would be normal procedure. This is the draft that was leaked to the New York Times and posted publicly on August 7, 2017 (see Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report). The EPA and other agencies were to review and clear the report by August 18.
How does the SGCR reach a decision? By consensus. All subcommittee members, representing different agencies, must approve USGCRP document drafts before they can go onto the next stage. In other words, it takes only one White House or other Administration representative on the subcommittee to oppose the report in order to stop it. That has not happened with this report – yet.
Given that the NSTC is run by the President and his Cabinet, the broad representation of the White House and agencies on the CENRS and the SGCR, and the consensus approach of the SGCR, it is false and misleading to suggest that the science in the report is “just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, DC.”
The Report Was Developed by Qualified Scientists – and Peer Reviewed
The report’s development was overseen by a Federal Science Steering Committee (SSC) consisting of three lead authors and representatives from four agencies, including the EPA. The leaked draft of the report explains the process:
“Following a public notice for author nominations in March 2016, the SSC selected the writing team, consisting of scientists representing Federal agencies, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector. Contributing Authors were requested to provide special input to the Lead Authors to help with specific issues of the assessment…Over the course of 16 months, 6 CSSR drafts were generated, with each successive iteration—from zero-order to fifth-order drafts—undergoing additional expert review.”
During the process, the report was submitted to the National Academies of Sciences (NAS). The NAS review committee published its Review of the Draft Climate Science Special Report earlier this year, saying the Climate Science Special Report was “an impressive, timely, and generally well-written draft report.” They added they were “impressed with the breadth, accuracy, and rigor of the draft CSSR.”
Asserting that the report had not been peer-reviewed, Pruitt said the report “ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation.” Clearly it was peer-reviewed and was well-received; and no further peer review is needed.
The Science in the Draft Report Has Not Been Politicized (Yet), But Concerns Remain
Pruitt stated that “science should not be politicized.” Just as he warns against politicizing the science, he does exactly that, most recently by promoting an adversarial “red team-blue team” proceeding to debate climate science issues. See our recent post, Red-Team v. Blue-Team: A Black and White Attack on Climate Science and Scientists. Despite Pruitt’s recent rhetoric and actions, EPA was among the majority of agencies that cleared the Climate Science Special Report by August 18, as requested by OSTP. It was the third time Pruitt’s agency cleared a draft of the report.
All eyes now are on the Department of Energy (DOE), which requested an extension of the August 18 clearance deadline; and now has until September 1 to review and clear the report for public release. If it does so, the report could be publicly released in November. But there are reasons to be concerned about what DOE might do. As the Washington Post reported, DOE Secretary Rick Perry “once described the science behind human-caused climate change as a `contrived phony mess.’” Like Pruitt, Perry reportedly supports subjecting climate science to a “red team-blue team” adversarial proceeding.
Over a decade ago, in its report, Implementing Climate and Global Change Research: A Review of the Final U.S. Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan (2004), the National Research Council warned that involvement of “high-level political leaders” in the USGCRP’s work “allows the possibility that the program’s priorities or scientific results could be influenced by political considerations. Either the reality of perception of such influences could serve to discredit the program…”
See also our earlier story on the Climate Science Special Report, Federal Climate Science Special Report Leaked: Clearance Process Raises Concerns Over Upcoming Climate Assessment Report (August 10 2017)
Nicky Sundt is CSPW’s Senior Fellow. She is an expert on energy and climate change with over 35 years of experience and accomplishment in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. During the four-month fellowship, Nicky will watch over and report on key US federal climate science obligations under law – especially those relating to communications to the President, Congress, and the public.