Official Accused of Altering Global Warming Documents

An official in the federal government's Climate Change Science Program says a White House employee has been amending documents on global warming to downplay the seriousness of the problem. The New York Times originally reported the allegation.

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A 10-year veteran of the office that coordinates government climate research recently quit and is crying foul. He says the White House office has been consistently rewriting documents to low-ball the science on global warming, and he's got documents to prove his point. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has this report.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

The person making the accusation is Rick Piltz. Until March, he was a senior associate of the federal Climate Change Science Program.

Mr. RICK PILTZ (Former Senior Associate, Climate Change Science Program): What I'm observing is what appears to be an orchestrated effort to downplay the seriousness of the climate change issues and their potential consequences for society.

SHOGREN: To make his case, he points to major government reports on climate change that were edited by White House official Philip Cooney.

Mr. PILTZ: The White House counselor on environmental quality, the chief of staff who is a former oil industry lobbyist, was marking up these documents. And not just on the policy issues, but changing the language of how science was expressed or what the science priorities were. And all of it was designed to minimized the global warming problem.

SHOGREN: For example, Piltz reads from a Cooney edit of the early draft of the government's strategic plan for the Climate Change Science Program.

Mr. PILTZ: `Warming temperatures will also affect arctic land areas' is changed to `Warming temperatures may also affect arctic land.'

SHOGREN: In another edit, Cooney adds the words `significant' and `fundamental' before the phrase `uncertainties in climate science.' In another, he deleted a section highlighting the impacts of warming, such as reducing the size of glaciers and causing flooding.

Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute as an industry lobbyist before joining the White House. He doesn't have a background in science. Neither does Piltz. Piltz worked for the Democrats on the House Science Committee before he took his current job. Some industry representatives raise questions about his motives.

The White House would not make Cooney available for an interview. At the White House briefing, spokesman Scott McClellan was peppered with questions about Piltz's accusations. He defended Cooney's role in editing the documents and said he was only one of many people who did so.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesman): There are policy people and scientists who are involved in this process, in the interagency re-read process, and he's one of the policy people involved in that process and someone who's very familiar with the issues relating to climate change and the environment.

SHOGREN: The key point, McClellan says, is that after all the officials weigh in, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has the final say.

Mr. McCLELLAN: They have signed off on these reports because they know that they are scientifically sound. The facts are that our policies in our reports are based on the best available science.

SHOGREN: Cooney's edits and Piltz's accusations first appeared this morning in a New York Times story. The timing is awkward for the White House. They come as British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Washington has put President Bush's climate change policy in the spotlight. Blair is pushing the White House to adopt a more aggressive global warming policy. The US is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases; coal-fired power plants and vehicles are the biggest sources. President Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and he opposes mandatory emission cuts, saying they would be too costly.

Eileen Claussen is the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a former assistant secretary of State under the Clinton administration. She says the edits go beyond the kind of normal editing that any administration would do when publishing major scientific reports.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSSEN (President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change): It's sort of symptomatic of the view that science can be changed by policy preferences rather than that science sort of stands on its own and then you decide your policy. I mean, I think it fits into the way the administration has dealt with other matters of science.

SHOGREN: Claussen says the edits are not surprising because the administration has consistently emphasized the uncertainties about global warming science. But just yesterday, academies of science of 11 leading nations reported that significant global warming is occurring, and humans are the likely cause of most of it. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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