Bush Administration Defends Former Oil Industry Advocate Who Changed Climate Reports
WASHINGTON The Bush administration said Wednesday that changes made in government reports on global warming by a former oil industry advocate were part of a normal interagency review and did not violate a pledge to base environmental policy on sound science.
"The facts point out that our reports are based on the best scientific knowledge and they're based on the inputs of scientists," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Documents provided to the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that helps whistle-blowers, showed that a White House official who once was the oil industry's chief lobbyist on climate change, edited major administration reports on the phenomenon in 2002 and 2003.
The official, Philip Cooney, is chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney, an attorney with no science background, formerly he headed the climate issues program of the American Petroleum Institute.
His changes in several major administration climate reports, some subtle with an insert of an adjective or other qualifier, tended to emphasize that climate science and the environmental impact of climate change were uncertain, according to a summary of the documents provided by the Government Accountability Project.
President George W. Bush assembled a Cabinet-level working group on global warming in March 2001, less than two months into his presidency and about two weeks after he backed away from a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He asked the group for a global-warming report based on "sound science," and about the same time rejected an international pact negotiated in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, that requires industrial nations to reduce warming-causing greenhouse gases by specified amounts.
Cooney's involvement in editing the reports during the next two years was first disclosed Wednesday by The New York Times, which said it obtained the documents from the whistle-blowers group. The organization is representing whistle-blower Rick Piltz, who resigned in March from the government office that coordinates federal climate change programs.
In an interview Wednesday, Piltz disputed White House assertions that Cooney was simply one of many participating in drafting the climate reports. He said Cooney "played a central role, including having final review and signoff authority" on climate change reports.
Many of the changes Cooney made were aimed "at creating an enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty" about the science of climate change and its impact, contrary to the views of professionals in the climate programs, Piltz said.
Cooney was not made available for comment Wednesday. The Council on Environmental Quality referred questions to the White House.
McClellan, the administration spokesman, rejected suggestions that Cooney had "watered down" the climate reports.
"The reports are based on the best available science," said McClellan. He said more than a dozen agencies, including the White House science and technology office, were involved in creating the documents.
One concerned an October 2002 draft of a report titled "Our Changing Planet," an annual summary to Congress of government climate research. Another document was part of a draft to a 2002 document that outlined a 10-year strategic plan for U.S. climate change policy.
EPA Administrator Steve Johnson, whose agency also participated in drafting the documents, said Wednesday he was not familiar with the specifics of Cooney's role but viewed the issue as one of communications and "differences of opinion," not a conflict with the use of sound science.
"People both within EPA and across the administration help us make sure we're communicating, again staying true to the science, making sure that we are communicating in an effective and appropriate way," said Johnson when asked about the issue during a meeting with a small group of reporters.
"On any particular scientific issue there are multiple opinions," said Johnson, who recently was sworn in as the first career EPA scientist to head the agency. He said he did didn't want to comment more specifically because he was unfamiliar with the drafting of the documents in question.
Source: Associated Press