Thursday, June 09, 2005

WHY IS A FORMER LOBBYIST for the American Petroleum Institute now working as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in a position that creates and promotes environmental policy?

Apparently he's there to play down links between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming by editing government climate reports in such a way that such links are either eliminated or their significance greatly weakened.

In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.

The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

Seems like a clear conflict of interest to me. But not, apparently, to the Bush administration.

Other White House officials said the changes made by Mr. Cooney were part of the normal interagency review that takes place on all documents related to global environmental change. Robert Hopkins, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that one of the reports Mr. Cooney worked on, the administration's 10-year plan for climate research, was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. And Myron Ebell, who has long campaigned against limits on greenhouse gases as director of climate policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group, said such editing was necessary for "consistency" in meshing programs with policy.

But critics said that while all administrations routinely vetted government reports, scientific content in such reports should be reviewed by scientists. Climate experts and representatives of environmental groups, when shown examples of the revisions, said they illustrated the significant if largely invisible influence of Mr. Cooney and other White House officials with ties to energy industries that have long fought greenhouse-gas restrictions.

But, then, we all know how Pres. Bush feels about science.

Reporters who attempted to speak with Mr. Cooney were told by Michele St. Martin, a White House spokesperson, that "Mr. Cooney would not be available to comment. 'We don't put Phil Cooney on the record,' Ms. St. Martin said. 'He's not a cleared spokesman.' "

So let me get this straight. Phil Cooney is not cleared to speak to the press about his job editing government climate reports, but he IS cleared to rewrite the climate reports in such a way that he changes the meaning. Even though he is not a scientist or any kind of expert in environmental issues.

Okay, I got it.

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