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Political Science

House panel hears about editing of reports, interference with scientists' communications

by Bette Hileman
March 26, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 13

THE ADMINISTRATION'S alleged meddling with scientific information regarding climate change was center stage at a congressional hearing last week.

In testimony before the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, a former White House official admitted making changes to federal climate-change reports, saying that the 181 edits he made to three reports were just part of a standard review process.

Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff at the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) from 2001 to 2005, said his changes were an attempt to make the studies consistent with the 2001 National Research Council report "Climate Change Science." His edits were presented "within the context of an interagency review process with a lot of people providing recommendations," he said. "I offered my comments in good-faith reliance on what I understood to be the most authoritative and current views of the state of scientific knowledge."

However, committee Chair Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said nearly every edit Cooney made "injected doubt in the place of certainty, minimized the dangers of climate change," or "diminished the human role in causing the planet to warm. Where the draft report said that climate change will cause adverse impacts, you changed the text to say these changes may occur." Waxman noted that some of the sentences Cooney deleted from the federal reports were direct quotes from the NRC report. In his role as chief of staff at CEQ, Cooney "was able to exert tremendous influence on the direction of climate-change science and policy," Waxman said.

Republicans on the panel countered that it is the prerogative of the Bush Administration to make sure that reports from federal agencies are consistent and that James R. Mahoney, then-director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, had final say on the editorial changes.

James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified that "interference in communication of climate-change science has been greater during the current Administration than at any time in my career." He said requests from reporters wishing to interview him first had to be approved by political appointee George C. Deutsch III, who was, until February 2006, a NASA public affairs officer.



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