Committee Holds Hearing on Political Influence on Government Climate Change Scientists

Date: 
Tuesday, January 30, 2007 - 12:56pm
Location: 
2154 Rayburn House Office Building
Allegations of Political Interference with the Work of Government Climate Change Scientists

On Tuesday, January 30, 2007, the Committee held an oversight hearing on allegations of political interference with government climate change science. Witnesses at the hearing included a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a former official at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, and a NASA atmospheric physicist. At the hearing, the Committee heard about numerous instances of political interference with the work of climate scientists under the Bush Administration. A transcript of this hearing is now available.

Widespread Political Interference with Government Climate Science

Dr. Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new survey that revealed that 150 federal climate scientists personally experienced at least one incident of political interference during the past five years. UCS received reports of at least 435 specific incidents of political interference with the work of government climate scientists.

White House Edits to Climate Change Documents

Rick Piltz, formerly a Senior Associate at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), testified that he left the program because “politicization of climate science communication by the current Administration was undermining the credibility and integrity of the” CCSP. He testified about the role of Philip Cooney, former Chief of Staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in editing science program documents like the CCSP Strategic Plan and CCSP’s annual report, Our Changing Planet. According to Mr. Piltz, “Taken in the aggregate, the changes had the cumulative effect of shifting the tone and content of an already quite cautiously-worded draft to create an enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty about climate change and its implications.”

Administration Stifling Communication of Findings

Dr. Drew Shindell, an atmospheric physicist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Committee about his efforts to inform the public of his findings on the warming of Antarctica. He testified that, as a result of intervention by political appointees, his press release “was repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down.” Dr. Shindell also testified that NASA scientists were prohibited from discussing their scientific findings with the press without a NASA press officer monitoring the telephone call or in-person interview.

Preliminary Results of Committee Investigation

Chairman Waxman released a memorandum at the hearing that summarized White House documents reviewed by Committee staff. These documents indicated that White House officials sought to
edit an EPA report (1) to add “balance” by emphasizing the “beneficial effects” of climate change, (2) to delete a discussion of the human health and environmental effects of climate change, (3) to strike any discussion of atmospheric concentrations of carbon because carbon levels are not a “good indicator of climate change,” and (4) to remove the statement that “changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities.” Some of the most questionable edits were urged by Phillip Cooney.

110th Congress