White House hands over more climate change documents

House panel requested the information as part of a probe into potential attempts to alter scientific reports on global warming.

The ice appears to be melting between the White House and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff over the committee's efforts to obtain climate change documents.

Committee aides from both parties have been frustrated with the White House Council on Environmental Quality for not providing documents the committee has sought for months as part of an investigation into suspicions that the Bush White House has edited scientific reports to downplay the effects of global warming.

But at a Feb. 20 meeting with committee staff, CEQ aides agreed to provide the committee roughly one box of documents weekly, according to a letter sent Monday to CEQ Chairman James Connaughton from House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking member Thomas Davis, R-Va.

The council has promised to try to respond completely to the committee's latest document request by March 30 and "at a minimum, provide most of the responsive documents by then," Waxman and Davis wrote.

If the committee has not received all documents by March 30 then CEQ has until April 15 to provide them, their letter said. A CEQ spokeswoman confirmed the letter's summary of the Feb. 20 staff meeting, adding, "This is part of the ongoing accommodation process in which CEQ is committed to working with the committee."

The committee has postponed until March 19 a second hearing in the committee's investigation originally set for Thursday. The hearing was postponed due to scheduling conflicts -- "nothing else," a Waxman spokeswoman said.

It was unclear Monday if the committee has gained new evidence in any of the documents it has received from CEQ since the first hearing on Jan. 30.

Nonetheless, the panel appears to be obtaining more documents than when it sought materials for the initial hearing -- even after paring down its original requests made last summer. On the eve of the January hearing, the committee staff received nine non-public documents that Waxman complained "add little to our inquiry," and in some instances "do not even appear to be records we were seeking."

In a letter accompanying those documents, Connaughton said 30 records were not provided because they "include deliberative process materials and communications between CEQ and other agencies, between senior advisers to the president and senior CEQ officials, and information concerning the process of presidential decision-making."

That prompted Waxman and Davis to renew their request for documents in a Jan. 30 letter to Connaughton, setting a Feb. 9 deadline.

Although Waxman and Davis said they would consider Connaughton's concerns, they wrote: "Unless the president is prepared to assert a constitutional claim of executive privilege, the documents sought by the committee should be provided without further delay."

In Monday's letter, Waxman and Davis said aides have agreed that "during the period of production, there will be ongoing discussions between the staffs to attempt to resolve any disputes or issues that may arise."

During the Jan. 30 hearing, Waxman said documents provided to the committee last fall showed changes were made in a draft EPA report to add "balance" by emphasizing "beneficial effects" of climate change. Other changes deleted a discussion of health and environmental effects of climate change and added language saying atmospheric concentrations of carbon are not a "good indicator of climate change," the chairman said.

The documents also showed that a statement was removed indicating that "changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities," Waxman said.

This was rewritten to state that the link between human activity and global warming cannot be "unequivocally established," he added.

No Bush administration officials testified at the January hearing.

The committee's inquiry also comes amid a U.N. climate change report that will be released in New York Tuesday and promises to offer a "road map" for using available technology to "reduce emissions and provide other economic, environmental and social benefits," according to a release.

The report will also acknowledge that "some level of climate change is already unavoidable" and offers ways that societies can "do more to prepare for the changes already under way."

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., will participate in an event announcing the report's findings in Washington Wednesday.