Ex-Bush aide defends changes to global warming reports

Official tells lawmakers he simply suggested alterations, not final edits.

A former White House official on Monday defended Bush administration alterations to scientific climate change reports as steps "to align executive branch reports" with administration policies.

Philip Cooney, who resigned as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2005, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee he merely made recommended alterations, not final edits, to climate change reports through normal interagency reviews and based on 2001 recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences.

"I had the authority and responsibility to review the documents in question, under an established interagency review process, and did so using my best judgment, based on the administration's stated research priorities, as informed by the National Academy of Sciences," Cooney said.

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Cooney, who is currently with ExxonMobil, worked at the American Petroleum Institute when the oil industry trade association issued statements intended to "sell doubt about climate change science." Cooney was at API before serving at the Council on Environmental Quality.

"What bothers me is that you seem to bring exactly the same approach inside the White House," Waxman said.

Cooney said a 1998 API position on climate change that Waxman referred to was completed before he started working on climate change issues.

Committee Democrats said Cooney and fellow witness George Deutsch, a former public affairs officer at NASA, exemplify a pattern of the White House obstructing the views of scientists in climate change reports and in their media dealings.

Waxman said the committee has received more than eight boxes of documents from CEQ since the first hearing Jan. 30 and that "some of the information the committee has already obtained is disturbing."

This includes evidence that Cooney and other CEQ officials made at least 181 edits "to exaggerate or emphasize scientific uncertainties." He pointed to at least 113 edits "to de-emphasize or diminish the importance of the human role in global warming" in the administration's July 2003 guide to research into the effects of climate change, according to a memo from the Democratic staff. Major changes were also made in a draft 2003 EPA report and a fiscal 2003 report to Congress from the administration on the status of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

These edits have created "a substantial gap between the understanding of global warming by the relevant scientific community and the knowledge of the public and policy makers.

They still think it's completely up in the air," James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the committee. Committee Republicans pointed out that Cooney did not have final authority over the content of the scientific reports, and that the 2003 administration strategy and report to Congress were intended to be policy statements and not scientific reports.

Hansen has criticized the Bush administration's climate policies in the past, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Hansen has had "significant access" to the media, suggesting that the White House is not suppressing his views that more needs to be done about climate change.