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Monkeying With Climate Science

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has released a draft report on a "systematic White House effort" to harass, censor, and otherwise interfere with government climate scientists during the Bush years. The broad outlines of this tale have already been described by journalists, but apparently it takes an oversight committe with subpoena power to dredge up anecdotes like this one:

After Hurricane Katrina, there was a concerted effort by the White House and Department of Commerce to direct media inquiries to scientists who did not think climate change was linked to increased hurricane intensity.

For example, in October 2005, NOAA received a request from the CNBC show On the Money for Dr. Tom Knutson to appear and discuss whether global warming is contributing to the number or intensity of hurricanes. In an October 19, 2005, e-mail, Chuck Fuqua of the Department of Commerce asked Mr. Laborde: "what is Knutson's position on global warming vs. decadal cycles? Is he consistent with Bell and Landsea?" Dr. Bell and Dr. Landsea believed that the recent intensification of hurricanes was the result of natural variability.

Mr. Laborde responded: "He is consistent, but a bit of a different animal. ... His take is that even with worse case projections of green house gas concentrations, there will be a very small increase in hurricane intensity that won't be realized until almost 100 years from now." In his reply e-mail, Mr. Fuqua stated: "why can't we have one of the other guys on then?" Mr. Laborde explained that "Bell is unavailable because of other commitments and Landsea is busy at the hurricane center with Wilma."

Yup: A guy who thought global warming could, at worst, lead to a tiny uptick in hurricane intensity a whole century from now was considered way too off-message for the White House. So officials lied and told CNBC that there wasn't anyone available—later admitting to Waxman's staff that they would've allowed Bell or Landsea to appear. I guess we're supposed to be appalled, but I'm mostly stunned by the sheer pettiness of it all.

There's also the not-so-petty: Waxman's crew found that former petroleum lobbyist Philip Cooney, who headed up the Council on Environmental Quality, made 294 edits to the administration's Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program, so as to "exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties or to deemphasize or diminish the importance of the human role in global warming." Rick Piltz has already blown the whistle on Cooney, but Waxman's staff tallied up the actual edits. "Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas," for instance, became: "Warming temperatures may also affect Arctic land areas." A reference to the increasing accuracy and precision of climate modeling was slathered in Wite-Out. Multiply that by, oh, 300 and you have yourself a nicely watered-down assessment.

Update: Paul Kiel flags another priceless passage from Waxman's report:

The White House played a major role in crafting the August 2003 EPA legal opinion disavowing authority to regulate greenhouse gases. [Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality] James Connaughton personally edited the draft legal opinion. When an EPA draft quoted the National Academy of Science conclusion that “the changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities,” CEQ objected because “the above quotes are unnecessary and extremely harmful to the legal case being made.” The first line of another internal CEQ document transmitting comments on the draft EPA legal opinion reads: “Vulnerability: science.” The final opinion incorporating the White House edits was rejected by the Supreme Court in April 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA.

"Vulnerability: science." That... about sums it up.

--Bradford Plumer