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Did White House Censor Science?

CLAYTON SANDELL

House Democrats and Republicans traded rhetoric Monday over a new report claiming White House officials sought to suppress scientific views of global warming that clashed with Bush administration policies.

The report — originally undertaken as a bipartisan effort — leads to what the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee calls an “inescapable” conclusion that “the Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”

The report is the result of a 16-month investigation by the committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Republicans on the committee quickly dismissed the report as a “political attack” and issued their own findings that question the Democrats’ conclusions and investigative methods. The White House called the allegations untrue.

One of the issues addressed in the report released by the Democratic majority is whether the White House Council on Environmental Quality, or CEQ, required approval of all media requests to interview government climate scientists.

The report states that “by controlling which government scientists could respond to media inquiries, the White House and agency political appointees suppressed dissemination of scientific views that could conflict with administration policies.”

The report repeatedly cites the testimony of Kent Laborde, a career public affairs officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Laborde told the committee that the White House CEQ insisted on approving all news media requests to interview NOAA climate scientists — a practice Laborde said has only recently ended.

“According to Mr. Laborde,” the report said, “climate change was considered a high-profile issue, and anything that was very high profile, anything that related to policy, anything that particularly related to a current policy debate or policy deliberation’ had to be routed through CEQ for approval.”

White House approval for interviews with journalists became more prevalent after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, according to the report; scientists who denied a link between stronger hurricanes and global warming were given approval over scientists who suggested such a link.

Laborde told the committee that climate change seemed to be the only topic that garnered this special attention by the White House, and if the CEQ disapproved of an interview, “it would have not gone forward.”

The Republican minority report criticized Democrats for relying so heavily on Laborde’s testimony.

“A thorough investigation would have sought further evidence to complete the record before drawing conclusions based on the uncorroborated statements of one individual,” the Republican report said.

Keith Ausbrook, the committee’s Republican general counsel, told ABC News the report from Democrats led to conclusions “they had already decided on.”

Ausbrook said the report ignored the role that policymakers play in drafting policy and communicating it to the public.

“These guys are doing science, and that’s what they do,” Ausbrook said of government scientists. “And political appointees and other senior officials are responsible for developing policy and programs and taking that science and doing things with it.”

White House press secretary Dana Perino dismissed the Democrats’ report as “rehashed rhetoric.”

“I think that it’s inescapable that they issued the report on a day where [the] U.S. would be represented at the Bali conference, where we are currently talking about the next step for our framework after 2012, which is when Kyoto would end,” Perino said.

Perino was asked whether the White House told employees at federal agencies like NOAA to suppress climate science information.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Perino said. “I do not believe that is true.”