Lawmakers, Witnesses Tussle Over Climate Change 'Interference'

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - Political interference in the scientific process involving global warming was widely acknowledged on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but accusations flew in more than one direction about where the blame lies.

Witnesses, including a top Union of Concerned Scientists representative, told a congressional panel that Bush administration officials who oppose mandatory caps on "greenhouse gas" emissions have suppressed and manipulated scientific data pointing to a strong link between human activity and climate change.

But some Republican lawmakers suggested that the same individuals and organizations criticizing the administration were themselves complicit in politicizing the scientific process and in ignoring data that did not suit their own agenda.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the hearing into "allegations of political interference with the work of government climate change scientists."

He and other Democrats on the committee focused particular criticism on Philip A. Cooney, who previously served as chief of staff for the White House Council for Environmental Quality and has been accused of distorting scientific data.

Waxman noted in his opening remarks that Cooney was not a scientist and had previously served as a lobbyist for the American petroleum industry.

"For several years there have been allegations that the research of respected climate scientists was being distorted and suppressed by the Bush administration," he said.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) scientist Francesca Grifo and other witnesses called on members of Congress to end what she called "political interference with climate science" and to "remove barriers to communication."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was among those who denounced administration officials. He said he saw a parallel with the tactics used by tobacco companies in selling their products, adding, "Today we have a planet that's smoking."

Rick Piltz, director of the Climate Change Science Watch Government Accountability Project, said in his testimony he had resigned from the administration's Climate Change Science Program when it became evident to him administration officials were working to suppress information.

He told the panel he came to believe the administration "was uncomfortable with the mainstream scientifically based communications suggesting the reality of human-induced climate change and the likelihood of adverse consequences."

The criticism wasn't all in one direction, however.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, (R-Calif.) and Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) raised questions about Piltz's scientific credentials and motives.

Shays said he felt Piltz was "trying to give an impression that's false" by encouraging others to believe he is a scientist.

Piltz acknowledged that he was a political scientist and not a climate change scientist. However, he also said that he worked closely with qualified scientists, while serving in government.

Issa also questioned the criticism aimed at Cooney, saying, "We've been trashing a lawyer we've never met."

In his testimony, Piltz cited an email exchange between Cooney and Myron Ebell, the director of Energy & Global Warming Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as evidence of an alleged concerted effort at suppressing information.

(Ebell told Cybercast News Service later Tuesday he was disappointed his organization had not been invited to testify and "to set the record straight on these ridiculous charges that have been made against us, but I expect we'll get our chance." He also expressed frustration that the Bush administration had not defended itself and Cooney in particular during the hearings.)

'Mass grave'

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the ranking minority member on the committee, implored colleagues and concerned citizens not to buy into the "naive notion that science and politics can be kept separate."

The very issue of "politicization" had become quite political itself, Davis claimed. He also disputed the concept of scientific consensus on global warming, as invoked during witnesses' testimony.

"More than one strong consensus lies in the mass grave of disputed theories," he said.

The sentiment was shared by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) who said there are "serious questions as to how much global warming is actually caused by man." Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) cited an article by Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric science at MIT, that addressed the connection between "alarmism" and the impact it has on legitimate dissent.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) offered his own list of reading recommendations that included such titles as "The Republican War on Science."

Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, (D-Mass) said "alarmism" was not the central issue. He accused the Bush administration of spreading misinformation at the expense of sound science.

In its "A-Z guide to Political Interference in Science" the UCS argues that the administration is working to "manipulate, suppress and distort" compelling scientific evidence of global warming.

In her testimony, Grifo said UCS surveys show that a significant percentage of federal climate scientists have been pressured into making editorial changes to their findings.

But the UCS itself also came under scrutiny when Issa inquired into the history of the organization and its political activities. As previously reported by Cybercast News Service, the UCS has long history of involvement with leftist causes.

Issa asked Grifo if the UCS was initially formed for the purpose of opposing the Vietnam War, as he understood this to be the case. He also expressed disappointment about "what is being brought to us as science."

Grifo said in response that Issa had mischaracterized her organization and the methodology behind its studies.

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