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Climate Change Scientists, Officials Testify on Allegations of Administration Interference

Current and former government scientists and officials have testified to a congressional committee about what they call Bush administration efforts to downplay scientific evidence of global warming. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The allegations are not new, but this was the first time key individuals have appeared in person to detail what a new report calls an atmosphere of systematic political interference with climate change science.

Two private groups, the Government Accountability Project and Union of Concerned Scientists, say 1,600 climate scientists surveyed reported at least 435 occurrences of such interference over the past five years.

Nearly half of those responding said they perceived, or personally experienced, pressure to eliminate the words climate change from reports and communications, along with new or unusual administrative requirements impairing climate-related work.

"Political interference is harming federal science and threatening the health and safety of Americans," said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Grifo adds that nearly 700 scientists or 39 percent of respondents, feared retaliation for openly expressing their concerns.

President Bush has avoided using the term global warming, and as he did in his State of the Union address, prefers to describe changes in the world's weather as global climate change, while acknowledging it poses a problem.

The president favors technological solutions and development of alternative fuels to lessen dependence on foreign oil, in addition to efforts to protect the environment.

In 2005, documents emerged showing that a White House official and former oil industry lobbyist personally edited government reports to play down links between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The controversy over the actions of Philip Cooney, then chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has colored the debate over administration policies regarding climate change.

Rick Piltz, formerly of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, took a public stand at the time accusing the Bush administration of trying to suppress the views of government scientists. "I came increasingly to the conclusion that the administration was acting to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science and its implications for society and that the politicization of climate science communication by the administration was undermining the credibility and integrity of the climate change science program," he said.

Drew Shindell, an atmospheric physicist and climate researcher at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, accuses the administration of attempting to suppress scientific findings. "Suppression of scientific evidence has undermined the trust between the public and policymakers, and between scientists and policymakers. Cases where scientific uncertainties were exaggerated by political appointees have been equally troubling," he said.

Democrats controlling Congress have made the issue of global warming a key part of their agenda in the 110th Congress, and will likely be helped by the report released on Tuesday.

The hearing was tinged with partisan politics, as some Republicans questioned how the two groups who produced the 92-page document used the results of their survey of scientists.

"You do a study that sends out, from a list that you generate, you send out 1,600 questionnaires by e-mail, you get back 19 percent of them, and then you come up with a whole series of assumptions and you bring them here and say, this is what the science community says?," asked Congressman Darrel Issa, a California Republican.

In addition to the survey of scientists, the 92-page report that was a focus of the hearing was based on some 2,000 documents from agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It concludes, among other things, that until political interference in climate science ends, the United States will not be able to fully protect Americans and the world from the dangers of a warming planet.

The report urges Congress to strengthen whistleblower laws to specifically protect federal scientists. These scientists, the report says, should be able to conduct their work and communicate their findings without interference.