Scientists Say Texas Agency Edits Out Climate Change

Scientists and conservationists accuse the state environmental agency of editing references to climate change and sea level rise out of a public report — because the agency, like Gov. Rick Perry, is skeptical of global warming.

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The Texas coast has also battled its share of dangerous floodwaters. Now a controversy over alleged scientific censorship is roiling Galveston Bay. It involves the administration of Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry.

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Scientists and conservationists accuse the state environmental agency of editing references to climate change and sea level rise out of a public report because the agency and the governor remain staunch global warming skeptics. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Galveston Bay is a large estuary on the upper Texas coast whose deteriorating health is of great concern to stakeholders, from fishermen to boaters to birders. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the TCEQ, commissioned a scientific report called State of the Bay, but it wasn't happy with some of the results. The report's authors are in agreement that sea-level rise caused by global warming is threatening wetlands surrounding Galveston Bay, but the TCEQ did not want any mention of human-caused environmental calamities and pulled out its red pencil.

L'OREAL STEPNEY: I'm going to call the meeting to order. I'll guess I'll do my official gavel thing.

BURNETT: And that's what brought the issue before 50 people Wednesday morning inside a meeting room in a mosquito-infested marsh a few miles from the troubled bay. L'Oreal Stepney is deputy director of the Office of Water at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

STEPNEY: Let me say this clearly. We are not an agency that is about censorship. It is not what we do, it is wrong, it is not who we are.

BURNETT: Stepney played down the firestorm as merely professional differences between her agency and the report's authors. But the scientist who wrote the offending chapter claims what happened is nothing less than the muzzling of an inconvenient truth.

JOHN ANDERSON: One of the most striking edits that was made was the deletion of a figure that was taken from Science magazine that showed the measured rate of sea level rise over the long term in historical time, and the predicted rate of rise, and again, that was taken from Science magazine, one of the most credible journals on Earth.

BURNETT: The author is John Anderson, a ruddy-faced 67-year-old oceanographer from Rice University, who among other things has spent 26 seasons studying ice sheet changes in Antarctica, and its effect on global sea level rise. He says the agency deleted passages that Galveston Bay is currently rising three millimeters a year, a six-fold increase, and that human-induced global warming is the cause.

ANDERSON: And I think the travesty here is that this chapter was actually written for teachers. They're my target audience, and this to me is just an outward attempt to keep scientific information, scientific fact, from getting into classrooms.

BURNETT: The agency also deleted a reference that manmade dams on rivers have disrupted important sediment deposition into the bay. L'Oreal Stepney said in an interview that the report should focus on the overall health of the bay and avoid controversial theories. She said the TCEQ is not ignoring the reality of sea-level rise - it's mentioned elsewhere in the report - it's only Anderson's chapter linking it to global warming that they object to.

STEPNEY: It's unsettled science, in our opinion, and that's our - that's our position, and we've been clear about that.

BURNETT: At the meeting, the TCEQ offered a compromise - the agency would publish "State of the Bay" without Anderson's chapter, and dissident scientists could publish the unedited chapter on their own. But that didn't placate the Galveston Bay Council that held the meeting. One after another, members spoke up. The chair of the council said they wanted the state to publish the complete report unexpurgated. A representative from the EPA, which helped fund the study, echoed her comment. Then concerned citizen Albert Gonzalez spoke his mind.

ALBERT GONZALEZ: The political climate in our nation right now seems to be anti-regulation, anti-science. That just is very, very upsetting, and I just wanted to make that comment.

BURNETT: The world's leading science academies state that most of the global warming in recent decades is likely the result of human activities. Rick Perry, his commissioners on the TCEQ, and some members of Congress, mostly Republicans, say that human-caused climate change is junk science. The governor's office said he would have no comment on the Galveston Bay censorship controversy, which has yet to be resolved. John Burnett, NPR News, Houston.

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