WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the White House demanded that all mention of how global warming harms human health be cut from testimony to Congress last fall, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who had a key role on climate policy said Tuesday.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., charged that the new information from the former official showed that the White House and Cheney were covering up the dangers of global warming in an attempt to block the EPA from taking action.
Boxer said the information also was significant in California's efforts to get a waiver to impose tougher air-quality regulations than federal law required. The EPA turned down California's request.
"I think it's definitely tied to the waiver, because if you hide the danger it gives you more reason to say, 'Oh, I'm not granting the waiver. No one's in danger,' " Boxer said. "If you admit that there's danger, how do you then say no to California?"
"We don't discuss internal deliberations," Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said.
The former EPA official, Jason Burnett, said in a letter to Boxer dated Sunday that the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Cheney's office wanted to cut any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change from testimony to Congress last October by Julie Gerberding, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Burnett said he then checked with scientists at the EPA and concluded that Gerberding's details about the threats were accurate, so he refused to tell the CDC to delete them.
It was deleted anyway. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in October that the cuts were ordered because of doubts about the soundness of the science of Gerberding's planned testimony. However, Gerberding's list of global warming dangers matched the findings of international scientists in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and the administration accepts the scientific consensus in those reports.
Boxer said Gerberding's original testimony would have supported EPA staff's efforts to show that greenhouse gases endangered health.
"We now know that this censorship was not haphazard. It was part of a master plan" meant to ensure that the EPA's response to a Supreme Court decision that found that greenhouse gases are air pollutants "would be as weak as possible," Boxer charged.
Burnett coordinated climate-change policy at the EPA. His main job was to respond to the Supreme Court decision. The ruling required the EPA to determine whether the gases endanger public health, and, if so, to issue regulations to protect Americans.
In his letter, Burnett said that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson had asked the staff to draft a provisional finding that greenhouse gases do endanger public welfare. Burnett sent the report by e-mail, but the White House has refused to open it. As a result, the finding isn't available to the public.
Boxer said Johnson should release the e-mailed finding and all other documents related to the EPA's conclusions about the dangers of global warming. The agency also should indicate what rules it will impose to reduce the emissions of heat-trapping gases, she said.
"If Mr. Johnson refuses to do these things I'm asking him to do, if he doesn't have the strength to do them, he should resign," Boxer said.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Tuesday that the agency planned to release a lengthy document Friday that would include much of Burnett's work as part of a process to decide how to regulate manmade sources of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas,
Shradar said a new law enacted in December requiring tougher gas-mileage standards had delayed the completion of the document.
Burnett is an environmental economist who joined the EPA in 2004 and worked there for nearly two years until he left after a disagreement about a decision on soot. He said Johnson asked him to return to the EPA in June 2007 to lead the response to the Supreme Court ruling and that he left in frustration on June 9 after one year.
Burnett has contributed to Democratic campaigns, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Government.
"Following the law and responding to the Supreme Court is not a partisan issue," Burnett said at a news conference.
Burnett also said in his letter that EPA staff had drafted testimony in January that quoted a letter by Johnson to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which said that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment in California and everywhere regardless of where the emissions occur."
Burnett said that an official from Cheney's office wanted to eliminate the wording about harm to the environment. Burnett said he refused, and the testimony remained as the EPA had written it.