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Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House

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  • npat1
    Fw: [fuelcell-energy] ... Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House By Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, April 6, 2006; A27
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 6, 2006
      Fw: [fuelcell-energy]
      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      Climate Researchers Feeling Heat From White House

      By Juliet Eilperin
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Thursday, April 6, 2006; A27

      Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the
      Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly
      to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say,
      is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the
      climate is changing.

      Employees and contractors working for the National Oceanic and
      Atmospheric Administration, along with a U.S. Geological Survey
      scientist working at an NOAA lab, said in interviews that over the
      past year administration officials have chastised them for speaking
      on policy questions; removed references to global warming from their
      reports, news releases and conference Web sites; investigated news
      leaks; and sometimes urged them to stop speaking to the media
      altogether. Their accounts indicate that the ideological battle over
      climate-change research, which first came to light at NASA, is being
      fought in other federal science agencies as well.

      These scientists -- working nationwide in research centers in such
      places as Princeton, N.J., and Boulder, Colo. -- say they are
      required to clear all media requests with administration officials,
      something they did not have to do until the summer of 2004. Before
      then, point climate researchers -- unlike staff members in the
      Justice or State departments, which have long-standing policies
      restricting access to reporters -- were relatively free to discuss
      their findings without strict agency oversight.

      "There has been a change in how we're expected to interact with the
      press," said Pieter Tans, who measures greenhouse gases linked to
      global warming and has worked at NOAA's Earth System Research
      Laboratory in Boulder for two decades. He added that although he
      often "ignores the rules" the administration has instituted, when it
      comes to his colleagues, "some people feel intimidated -- I see that."

      Christopher Milly, a hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, said
      he had problems twice while drafting news releases on scientific
      papers describing how climate change would affect the nation's water

      Once in 2002, Milly said, Interior officials declined to issue a news
      release on grounds that it would cause "great problems with the
      department." In November 2005, they agreed to issue a release on a
      different climate-related paper, Milly said, but "purged key words
      from the releases, including 'global warming,' 'warming climate'
      and 'climate change.' "

      Administration officials said they are following long-standing
      policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA
      public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an
      interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping
      facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.

      "We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde
      said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming
      out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs
      to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or

      Several times, however, agency officials have tried to alter what
      these scientists tell the media. When Tans was helping to organize
      the Seventh International Carbon Dioxide Conference near Boulder last
      fall, his lab director told him participants could not use the
      term "climate change" in conference paper's titles and abstracts.
      Tans and others disregarded that advice.

      None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their
      research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the
      administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger
      budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on
      studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's
      budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from
      $241 million in 2004.

      The assertion that climate scientists are being censored first
      surfaced in January when James Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard
      Institute for Space Studies, told the New York Times and The
      Washington Post that the administration sought to muzzle him after he
      gave a lecture in December calling for cuts in emissions of carbon
      dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (NASA Administrator Michael D.
      Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists
      are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific
      findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

      Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School
      University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were
      experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi
      Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the

      NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an
      agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-
      reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek
      the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."

      "I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he
      added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating
      personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of
      your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."

      NOAA scientists, however, cite repeated instances in which the
      administration played down the threat of climate change in their
      documents and news releases. Although Bush and his top advisers have
      said that Earth is warming and human activity has contributed to
      this, they have questioned some predictions and caution that
      mandatory limits on carbon dioxide could damage the nation's economy.

      In 2002, NOAA agreed to draft a report with Australian researchers
      aimed at helping reef managers deal with widespread coral bleaching
      that stems from higher sea temperatures. A March 2004 draft report
      had several references to global warming, including "Mass
      bleaching . . . affects reefs at regional to global scales, and has
      incontrovertibly linked to increases in sea temperature associated
      with global change."

      A later version, dated July 2005, drops those references and several
      others mentioning climate change.

      NOAA has yet to release the report on coral bleaching. James R.
      Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere,
      said he decided in late 2004 to delay the report because "its
      scientific basis was so inadequate." Now that it is revised, he said,
      he is waiting for the Australian Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
      Authority to approve it. "I just did not think it was ready for prime
      time," Mahoney said. "It was not just about climate change -- there
      were a lot of things."

      On other occasions, Mahoney and other NOAA officials have told
      researchers not to give their opinions on policy matters. Konrad
      Steffen directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in
      Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a
      joint NOAA-university institute with a $40 million annual budget.
      Steffen studies the Greenland ice sheet, and when his work was cited
      last spring in a major international report on climate change in the
      Arctic, he and another NOAA lab director from Alaska received a call
      from Mahoney in which he told them not to give reporters their
      opinions on global warming.

      Steffen said that he told him that although Mahoney has considerable
      leverage as "the person in command for all research money in
      NOAA . . . I was not backing down."

      Mahoney said he had "no recollection" of the conversation, which took
      place in a conference call. "It's virtually inconceivable that I
      would have called him about this," Mahoney said, though he
      added: "For those who are government employees, our position is they
      should not typically render a policy view."

      Tans, whose interviews with the BBC crew were monitored by Laborde,
      said Laborde has not tried to interfere with the interviews. But Tans
      said he did not understand why he now needs an official "minder" from
      Washington to observe his discussions with the media. "It used to be
      we could say, 'Okay, you're welcome to come in, let's talk,' " he
      said. "There was never anything of having to ask permission of

      The need for clearance from Washington, several NOAA scientists said,
      amounts to a "pocket veto" allowing administration officials to block
      interviews by not giving permission in time for journalists'

      Ronald Stouffer, a climate research scientist at NOAA's Geophysical
      Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, estimated his media requests
      have dropped in half because it took so long to get clearance to talk
      from NOAA headquarters. Thomas Delworth, one of Stouffer's
      colleagues, said the policy means Americans have only "a partial
      sense" of what government scientists have learned about climate

      "American taxpayers are paying the bill, and they have a right to
      know what we're doing," he said.

      Researcher Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.



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