by Paul Harris / The Observer –
NEW YORK (September 21, 2003) — White House officials have undermined their own government scientists’ research into climate change to play down the impact of global warming, an investigation by The Observer can reveal.
The disclosure will anger environment campaigners who claim that efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are being sabotaged because of President George W. Bush’s links to the oil industry.
Emails and internal government documents obtained by The Observer show that officials have sought to edit or remove research warning that the problem is serious. They have enlisted the help of conservative lobby groups funded by the oil industry to attack US government scientists if they produce work seen as accepting too readily that pollution is an issue.
Central to the revelations of double dealing is the discovery of an email sent to Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, by Myron Ebell, a director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI is an ultra-conservative lobby group that has received more than $1 million in donations since 1998 from the oil giant Exxon, which sells Esso petrol in Britain.
The email, dated 3 June 2002, reveals how White House officials wanted the CEI’s help to play down the impact of a report last summer by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in which the US admitted for the first time that humans are contributing to global warming. ‘Thanks for calling and asking for our help,’ Ebell tells Cooney.
The email discusses possible tactics for playing down the report and getting rid of EPA officials, including its then head, Christine Whitman. ‘It seems to me that the folks at the EPA are the obvious fall guys and we would only hope that the fall guy (or gal) should be as high up as possible,’ Ebell wrote in the email. ‘Perhaps tomorrow we will call for Whitman to be fired,’ he added.
The CEI is suing another government climate research body that produced evidence for global warming. The revelation of the email’s contents has prompted demands for an investigation to see if the White House and CEI are coordinating the legal attack.
‘This email indicates a secret initiative by the administration to invite and orchestrate a lawsuit against itself seeking to discredit an official US government report on global warming dangers,’ said Richard Blumenthal, attorney general of Connecticut, who has written to the White House asking for an inquiry.
The allegation was denied by White House officials and the CEI. ‘It is absurd. We do not have a sweetheart relationship with the White House,’ said Chris Horner, a lawyer and senior fellow of CEI.
However, environmentalists say the email fits a pattern of collusion between the Bush administration and conservative groups funded by the oil industry, who lobby against efforts to control carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming.
When Bush first came to power he withdrew the US – the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases – from the Kyoto treaty, which requires nations to limit their emissions.
Both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are former oil executives; National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was a director of the oil firm Chevron, and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans once headed an oil and gas exploration company.
‘It all fits together,’ said Kert Davies of Greenpeace. ‘It shows that there is an effort to undermine good science. It all just smells like the oil industry. They are doing everything to allow the US to remain the world’s biggest polluter.’
Other confidential documents obtained by The Observer detail White House efforts to suppress research that shows the world’s climate is warming. A four-page internal EPA memo reveals that Bush’s staff insisted on major amendments to the climate change section of an environmental survey of the US, published last June. One alteration indicated ‘that no further changes may be made’.
The memo discusses ways of dealing with the White House editing, and warns that the section ‘no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change’.
Some of the changes include deleting a summary that stated: ‘Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment.’ Sections on the ecological effects of global warming and its impact on human health were removed. So were several sentences calling for further research on climate change.
A temperature record covering 1,000 years was also deleted, prompting the EPA memo to note: ‘Emphasis is given to a recent, limited analysis [which] supports the administration’s favored message.’
White House officials added numerous qualifying words such as ‘potentially’ and ‘may’, leading the EPA to complain: ‘Uncertainty is inserted where there is essentially none.’
The paper then analyses what the EPA should do about the amendments and whether they should be published at all. The options range from accepting the alterations to trying to discuss them with the White House.
When the report was finally published, however, the EPA had removed the entire global warming section to avoid including information that was not scientifically credible.
Former EPA climate policy adviser Jeremy Symons said morale at the agency had been devastated by the administration’s tactics. He painted a picture of scientists afraid to conduct research for fear of angering their White House paymasters. ‘They do good research,’ he said. ‘But they feel that they have a boss who does not want them to do it. And if they do it right, then they will get hit or their work will be buried.’
Symons left the EPA in April 2001 and now works for the National Wildlife Federation as head of its climate change program. The Bush administration’s attitude was clear from the beginning, he said, and a lot of people were working to ensure that the President did nothing to address global warming.
Additional reporting by Jason Rodrigues
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
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