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Democratic senators seek retraction of climate change report written by former oil lobbyist

RAW STORY

After reviewing federal laws that prohibit obstruction of Congress and false statements, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to determine the legality of actions taken by a former top Bush administration official who altered government scientific reports on global warming, RAW STORY has learned.

They have also called on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program to retract the report until an investigation is completed.

Bush hired Philip Cooney, a onetime lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API), to be Chief of Staff of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in 2001. He resigned his post to join ExxonMobil Corporation after an expose in the New York Times revealed he had hacked apart government reports to remove references to climate change.



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“Since the altered reports were requested by, and directed to, Congress, and were prepared by departments and agencies of the U.S. Government, we are seeking your legal evaluation of whether Mr. Cooney’s actions violated two laws,” the Democratic senators wrote in their letter to GAO Comptroller General David Walker.

“These alterations have severely harmed the integrity of U.S. Government scientific analyses, and the taxpayers who foot the bill for these doctored reports. We look forward to your analysis of the legality of these actions by Mr. Cooney,” the senators added.

Reid and Lautenberg also wrote to the Director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Dr. James R. Mahoney, calling on him to immediately retract both of the reports edited by Mr. Cooney until the GAO concludes its investigation.

“Government reports must be based on science, not science fiction,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “The Bush administration cannot ‘fix’ science around their political goals.”

At the time of the Times report, the White House denied that Cooney had watered down the impact of global warming.

"That's false," spokesman Scott McClellan told AP. "The reports are based on the best scientific knowledge that we have at this time."

Following is the senators' letter to the Government Accountability Office.

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June 29, 2005 Honorable David M. Walker Comptroller General of the United States General Accounting Office 441 G Street NW Washington, DC 20548

Dear Comptroller General Walker:

As you may have read in recent press reports, the former Chief of Staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Philip Cooney, a lawyer with no scientific training, significantly altered the scientific conclusions of at least two studies commissioned by Congress. The reports Mr. Cooney altered were:

1.U.S. Climate Change Science Program. 2002. Our Changing Planet: The Fiscal Year 2003 U.S. Global Change Research Program. Online at http://www.climatescience.gov 2. U.S. Climate Change Science Program. 2003. Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. Online at http://www.climatescience.gov.

Mr. Cooney has since left the Administration and will join ExxonMobil Corporation this fall. Prior to his employment at the White House, Mr. Cooney was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API). Both ExxonMobil and the API are leading opponents of policies to prevent global warming.

Since the altered reports were requested by, and directed to, Congress, and were prepared by departments and agencies of the U.S. Government, We are seeking your legal evaluation of whether Mr. Cooney’s actions violated two laws: 18 U.S.C. § 1505, Obstruction of Proceedings before Departments, Agencies, and Committees and 18 U.S.C. § 1001, Statements or Entries Generally.

Both of the reports to Congress altered by Mr. Cooney were required by statute: The U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990, 15 U.S.C. § 2921 et seq.

We have attached excerpts from draft versions of these reports that contain Mr. Cooney’s handwritten alterations of scientific conclusions. The alterations are significant and changed the reports’ scientific conclusions.

For example, in the 2003 Strategic Plan for the US Climate Change Science Program, Mr. Cooney deleted an entire section on changes in the water cycle in polar regions. In the report Our Changing Planet, Mr. Cooney made such changes as “Earth is undergoing a period of rapid change” to “Earth may be undergoing a period of rapid change,” interjecting uncertainty where none was intended. Mr. Cooney commonly changed “is” and “will” to “might” and “may” when referring to impacts of climate change.

The chart below illustrates some of these changes:

REPORT ORIGINAL DRAFT REPORT COONEY ALTERATION (in bold)

Our Changing Planet, 2002

''Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change” ''Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively rapid change.”

Our Changing Planet, 2002

“Much scientific evidence indicates that these changes are the result of a complex interplay of several natural and human-related forces.” “Much scientific evidence indicates that these changes are likely the result of a complex interplay of several natural and human-related forces.”

Our Changing Planet, 2002

“…develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions will affect the global environment in the future.” “…develop useful projections of how natural variability and human actions might affect the global environment in the future.”

Our Changing Planet, 2002

“The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is difficult.” “The attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely difficult.”

Our Changing Planet, 2002

“Scientists have started to assemble information on the complex relationships between natural variability and human activities that contribute to change.” “Scientists have started to assemble information on the complex relationships between natural variability and human activities that could contribute to change.”

Our Changing Planet, 2002

“..the role for CCRI is to facilitate full use of this scientific information in policy and decisionmaking on response strategies for adaptation and mitigation…” “…the role for CCRI is to reduce the significant remaining uncertainties associated with human-induced climate change and facilitate full use of…”

Strategic Plan for the US Climate Change Science Program, 2003

“Warming will also cause reductions in mountain glaciers and advance the timing of the melt of mountain snow packs in polar regions. In turn, runoff rates will change and flood potential will be altered in ways that are currently not well understood. There will be significant shifts in the seasonality of runoff that will have serious impacts on native populations that rely on fishing and hunting for their livelihood. These changes will be further complicated by shifts in precipitation regimes and a possible intensification and increased frequency of extreme hydrologic events.”

Entire paragraph deleted

Strategic Plan for the US Climate Change Science Program, 2003

“Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas.”

“Warming temperatures may also affect Arctic land areas.”

Strategic Plan for the US Climate Change Science Program, 2003

“…the hydrology of northern land areas will be substantially altered.”

“…the hydrology of northern land areas may be substantially altered.”

Both reports

“uncertainties” in reference to state of climate science “significant uncertainties” or “fundamental uncertainties.”

These alterations have severely harmed the integrity of U.S. Government scientific analyses, and the taxpayers who foot the bill for these doctored reports.

We look forward to your analysis of the legality of these actions by Mr. Cooney.

Sincerely,

FRANK R. LAUTENBERG Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Global Climate Change Senate Commerce Committee

HARRY REID Democratic Senate leader

Originally published on Wednesday June 29, 2005.

 


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