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January 29, 2007

CLIMATE: Waxman set to barrel into scientific suppression issue

Lauren Morello, E&E Daily reporter

The topic of scientific censorship within the federal government takes center-stage starting tomorrow with a hearing in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Current and former federal climate scientists are set to testify at the hearing, which continues the House panel's probe into allegations that the Bush administration censored public statements about global warming.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Tom Davis (R-Va.) have requested complete copies of climate-related documents from seven current and former officials with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. And two advocacy groups -- the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project -- will release a report to coincide with the House hearing, which they said contains "new evidence of suppression and manipulation of climate science in seven federal agencies."

Also, the Senate Commerce Committee late last week announced its own plans to examine reports of government scientific censorship at a hearing next week.

The dual House and Senate hearings come little more than a year after NASA climatologist James Hansen accused federal officials of censoring his views on global warming, drawing congressional attention and sparking reports of scientific suppression at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. EPA, and the Bureau of Land Management. The Bush administration has largely refuted the allegations.

In an interview shortly after the November elections, Waxman predicted scientific censorship would be a key issue for his party. "Democrats are not going to sweep this issue under the rug," he said. "If the administration tries to censor scientists or sweep science under the rug, they're not going to get away with it" (E&E Daily, Nov. 17, 2006).

Tomorrow's House hearing is likely to focus on incidents at those agencies, along with CEQ's handling of key government reports on climate science and its efforts "to manage or influence statements" made by government scientists to the media about global warming.

In a letter sent last week to CEQ Chairman Jim Connaughton requesting climate-related White House documents, Waxman and Davis focused on the role of former CEQ chief of staff Phillip Cooney, who resigned last spring and went to work for Exxon Mobil Corp. following news reports that he edited government documents to soften the link between global warming and industrial emissions of greenhouse gases (Greenwire, Sept. 21, 2006).

Among those set to testify tomorrow is former government scientist Rick Piltz, who now directs the Government Accountability Project's Climate Science Watch. Piltz resigned from the federal Climate Change Science Program in early 2005, citing the intrusion of politics into the scientific arena and an allegedly questionable scientific review process overseen by top White House officials.

Also on the witness list are Drew Shindell, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies and a colleague of Hansen's, and Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

No Bush administration representatives are expected, an aide to Waxman said, though the committee had not finalized its witness list as of Friday afternoon.

Schedule: The hearing is scheduled for tomorrow (January 30, 2007) at 10 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch; Francesca Griffo, director of the Science Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists; and Drew Shindell, climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies

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