White House Feels the Heat

In the current White House, giving lobbyists (such as Mark Rey, a former timber company official) responsibility for overseeing public lands is business as usual. But when Philip Cooney, a top official on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was caught rewriting scientific reports on the threat of global warming and resigned, supposedly to spend time with his family, but actually to take a job with ExxonMobil, the White House press corps  woke up and started asking questions.

Q My second question is, The Guardian Newspaper in England has reported FOIA documents released to Greenpeace show that the White House views Exxon Corp. as one of the leading opponents of the Kyoto protocol, leading opponents of binding controls on greenhouse emissions. You now have Philip Cooney going to Exxon, after a period in which he served as Chief of Staff on the Environmental Council here at the White House, in which he edited scientific documents coming out of the administration that appeared to water down conclusions about global warming. Is there any connection here between a guy who worked in the White House editing out conclusions about global warming going to work for a corporation that opposed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s a pretty absurd question that you just raised, and I think in terms of the reports last week, we went through that and addressed that directly.

Q What does it say about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: The report that was highlighted — one of the reports that was highlighted in some of these news stories was our 10-year plan for climate science research. That was a report that was widely praised by the scientific community. And you talk about — you talk about one individual. We have an interagency review process that involves some 15 agencies throughout the federal government and a number of White House offices, as well, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy that is headed by a highly regarded scientist, the President’s chief science advisor, Dr. John Marburger. And I think I would encourage you to look at the facts and look at the record, because they contradict some of the characterizations you’re referring to.

Q The October 2000 draft, edited, from originally reading, "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change," to "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing" — how is that not watering down a conclusion?

MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to look at the final reports, the 2003 report that was put out on our 10-year plan for climate science research. Again, the National Academies of Science and the scientific community widely praised it. You ought to go back and look at some of what was discussed throughout that interagency process. The interagency process is much more than any one person, and the President is the one who drives policy and makes the decisions. And look at our record and look at our facts, because it’s a strong record when it comes to addressing climate change.

And in terms of some of what you’re referring to, one of the things that he suggested was something that was in the 2001 report by the National Academies of Science. That report talked about how there is considerable uncertainty when it comes to the science of climate change. That report also pointed out — and I would point out to you that that report back in 2001 was something that the President asked for. He wanted the National Academies of Science to take a look at the challenges we face when it comes to climate change. And in that report, I mean, they pointed out that surface temperatures are rising and that a large reason for that is human activity. But they also pointed out that there is considerable uncertainty.

In fact there is no uncertainty about the warming of the planet. Ten years of laborious studies of ocean temperatures, using robots to dive a mile deep, have proven the globe is warming. The only real question in the field today is when it began. Was it with the Industrial Revolution, in the mid-19th century? (That’s the conventional wisdom.) Or was it millenia earlier, with deforestation? (This is the new argument being advanced by William Ruddiman, most recently in the March issue of Scientific American.)

But more to the point, what are we going to do about it? The White House talks vaguely of technological advances, but in contrast to most other nations — who are eager to take action now, before things get worse — White House "environmental" officials continue to drag their feet, if the front page of today’s Washington Post is any guide.


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