White House defends editing of climate reports


By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday defended the actions of one of its key staffers who's publicly accused of editing government reports to downplay the link between "greenhouse" gases and global warming.

But some scientists reacted angrily. It's "par for the course from the administration, in terms of interfering with science for political ends," said Luke Warren of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has criticized the Bush administration's science policies.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Philip Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, changed descriptions of climate research approved by government scientists.

The Times said that Cooney, a lawyer and former lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute, made notes on drafts of reports issued in 2002 and 2003, removing or adjusting language on climate research.

Some of the changes were as subtle as adding the words "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," the Times reported. In one section, he crossed out a paragraph describing the projected reduction of glaciers and snowpack, the newspaper said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a press briefing that Cooney's editing was part of a broad review by 15 federal agencies, including policy people like Cooney as well as scientists. "Everybody who is involved in these issues should have input in these reports, and that's all this is," he says.

Climate change has been controversial for the Bush administration since 2001, when it withdrew support for the Kyoto Protocol, a global pact to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The administration questioned the cost and scientific merit of planned constraints.

"Scientists are best equipped to inform the public about climate science, not White House lawyers," says Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego. "People have a right to know the truth about climate science and the scientific consensus on the seriousness of this problem," she says.

McClellan says that some of the reports edited by Cooney were praised by scientists: "One of the very reports highlighted in the article today was the administration's 10-year plan for climate science, and that plan was widely praised by the scientific community, including the National Academies of Science."

The academies warned the White House in a 2004 report that political involvement in climate change reports could discredit the administration. Asked if the White House is politicizing science, McClellan said, "These reports should always be based on our scientific knowledge ...." The documents were provided by the Government Accountability Project.

Contributing: Judy Keen, USA TODAY; Reuters