WASHINGTON — The White House censored climate scientists and edited their testimony on global warming before Congress, Democrats charged Monday after a 16-month investigation into allegations of political interference with scientific inquiries.
The Bush administration was "particularly active in stifling discussions" of a potential link between climate change and the intensity of hurricanes, according to the findings in a draft report issued Monday by Democrats on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Climate scientists are divided about whether the storms that hit the U.S. in 2004 and 2005 were part of a cyclical weather pattern or attributable to higher global temperatures.
The report said that after Hurricane Katrina, the administration steered journalists toward government scientists who discounted a link between climate change and increased hurricane intensity. It also accused staffers on the Senate Commerce Committee of influencing the public testimony of climate experts such as former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield.
"The White House exerted unusual control over the public statements of federal scientists on climate change issues," said the report, which acknowledges that there's no scientific consensus on whether global warming leads to stronger hurricanes.
The report also charges that the administration has engaged in a "systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warning."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the report "rehashed rhetoric" and said that the Bush administration understands the "urgent challenge that is posed by climate change," a term the White House prefers to "global warming" because it doesn't suggest that human activity is responsible.
Perino said she was unaware of any attempts to downplay any scientific information that conflicted with the White House's politics.
House Republicans on the oversight committee dismissed the report as "seriously flawed" and complained in their own report that an investigation that began as a bipartisan effort into the presidential Council on Environmental Quality's role in climate-change policy "veered into a partisan diatribe against the Bush administration."
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., defended the panel's findings and said that science should be above the influence of politics.
"When Congress and the public hear the testimony of a government scientist, they should have confidence that there is not a hidden agenda behind their description of the understanding of a scientific issue," Waxman said in an e-mail.
Republicans on the committee disputed the charge that the administration provided access only to government scientists who'd deny any connection between hurricane intensity and global warming.
They did say, however, that interviews with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staffers made it clear that the administration wanted to present a "unified position" on the issue so as "not to pit government scientists against each other in the media."
They defended Mayfield, saying that such "respected scientists" were "demeaned as mere mouthpieces for the Bush administration and its supporters."
Mayfield on Monday denied that there was any interference in his testimony.
"I can truthfully say that no one told me at any time what to say in regard to possible impacts of climate change on tropical cyclones," Mayfield said in a statement.
The report also singles out an e-mail sent by a Commerce committee staffer for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who oversaw NOAA's climate research when he chaired the committee.
The e-mail came from Tom Jones, who worked on the Disaster Prediction and Prevention subcommittee, then chaired by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
In an e-mail to Noel Turner, a NOAA staffer who was writing a statement for Mayfield's upcoming committee testimony, Jones suggested that the hearing be used to discredit any link between hurricanes and global warming.
"We're going to work on smacking the s*** out of this issue," he wrote.
In his e-mail, Jones urged NOAA staffers to write phrases for Mayfield such as, "The individuals who are implying that Katrina has something to do with global warming are just plain wrong. They don't understand the science, and they're shamelessly trying to make political hay out of a national tragedy."
Turner told his colleagues at NOAA in an e-mail that he thought the suggested language wasn't something that Mayfield or the Commerce undersecretary would say, but "if we can get something close and quotable, that would probably be good."
Turner went on to write that the No. 1 priority for the hearing was to shift attention away from NOAA by "making FEMA look bad. Number two could be killing the climate change and hurricane issue."
In testimony to a House committee, Mayfield said that increased hurricane activity since 1995 was due to "natural fluctuations . . . and not enhanced substantially by global warming." He also said that "those who would link Hurricane Katrina to global warming just don't understand the science."
Stevens' current staffers on Monday distanced themselves from Jones.
"While this person is a staffer, he does not speak for the committee or Senator Stevens," said Commerce Committee spokesman Joe Brenckle.
Brenckle pointed out that as chairman of the Commerce Committee, the Alaska Republican established a subcommittee on climate change and has a long history of backing legislation and funding that promotes climate change research.
"In spite of any comments to the contrary, the Commerce committee will continue to approach climate change openly and honestly in the spirit of bipartisanship to form policies supported by sound science," Brenckle said.
ON THE WEB
Read the Republicans' report.
Read Max Mayfield's statement.