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Scientists Charge White House Pressure on Warming

Date: 31-Jan-07
Country: US
Author: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

"Our investigations found high-quality science struggling to get out," Francesca Grifo of the watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

A survey by the group found that 150 climate scientists personally experienced political interference in the past five years, for a total of at least 435 incidents.

"Nearly half of all respondents perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words 'climate change,' 'global warming' or other similar terms from a variety of communications," Grifo said.

Rick Piltz, a former US government scientist who said he resigned in 2005 after pressure to soft-pedal findings on global warming, told the committee in prepared testimony that former White House official Phil Cooney took an active role in casting doubt on the consequences of global climate change.

Cooney, who was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute before becoming chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resigned in 2005 to work for oil giant ExxonMobil.

Documents on global climate change required Cooney's review and approval, Piltz said.

"His edits of program reports, which had been drafted and approved by career science program managers, had the cumulative effect of adding an enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty about global warming and minimizing its likely consequences," Piltz said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chairs the committee, complained that the White House has balked at supplying documents requested over six months to investigate these allegations.

"The committee isn't trying to obtain state secrets or documents that could affect our immediate national security," Waxman said. "We are simply seeking answers to whether the White House's political staff is inappropriately censoring impartial government scientists."

Kristen Hellmer of the Council on Environmental Quality said the council had been cooperating with Congress. When asked about allegations of political interference in scientific documents, she said, "We do have in place a very transparent system in science reporting."

The hearing was one of two on Tuesday spotlighting global climate change; a Senate forum featured testimony from members including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois among Democrats and Republican John McCain of Arizona.

President George W. Bush's position on global warming has evolved over his presidency, from open skepticism about the reality of the phenomenon to acknowledgment at a global summit last year that climate change is occurring and human activities speed it up.

In his State of the Union address on Jan. 23, Bush called climate change "a serious challenge" that should be addressed by technology and greater use of alternative sources of energy. But he stopped short of calling for mandatory limits on US emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed in part for global warming.

These discussions are part of the run-up to release of a major United Nations report on climate change, scheduled for Friday in Paris. Drafts of the report strengthened the case that humans are the principal cause of global warming after 1950.

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