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Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lawmakers hear of interference on climate science

January 31, 2007

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— Federal scientists have been pressured by the White House to play down global warming, advocacy groups testified Tuesday at the Democrats' first investigative hearing since taking control of Congress.

The hearing focused on allegations that White House officials for years have micromanaged the government's climate programs and have closely controlled what scientists have been allowed to tell the public.

"It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a critic of the Bush administration's environmental policies, including its views on climate.

At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a survey of 279 government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their complaints ranged from a challenge to using the phrase "global warming" to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree to keeping scientists from talking to the media.

The survey and separate interviews with scientists "has brought to light numerous ways in which U.S. federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years," Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the committee.

Grifo's group, along with the Government Accountability Project, which helps whistle-blowers, produced the report.

Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that climate scientists frequently have been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research, though NASA's restrictions have been eased.

Prior to the change, interview requests of climate scientists frequently were "routed through the White House" and then turned away or delayed, said Shindell. He described how a news release on his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was "repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down" at the insistence of the White House.

Administration officials were not called to testify. In the past the White House has said it has only sought to inject balance into reports on climate change. President Bush has acknowledged concerns about global warming, but he strongly opposes mandatory caps of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that approach would be too costly.

Climate change also was a leading topic in the Senate at a hearing called by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

At the Senate hearing, Boxer's predecessor as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., had his own view of the science.

There is "no convincing scientific evidence" that human activity is causing global warming, declared Inhofe, who once called global warming a hoax. "We all know the Weather Channel would like to have people afraid all the time."

"I'll put you down as skeptical," replied Boxer.

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