New York Times
June 19, 2003
Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change
by Andrew C. Revkin and Katharine Q. Seelye
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a
draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after
editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from
rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal
The report, commissioned in 2001 by the agency's administrator,
Christie Whitman, was intended to provide the first comprehensive
review of what is known about various environmental problems, where
gaps in understanding exist and how to fill them.
Agency officials said it was tentatively scheduled to be released
early next week, before Mrs. Whitman steps down on June 27, ending a
troubled time in office that often put her at odds with President
Drafts of the climate section, with changes sought by the White House,
were given to The New York Times yesterday by a former E.P.A.
official, along with earlier drafts and an internal memorandum in
which some officials protested the changes. Two agency officials,
speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the documents were
The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that
warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of
smokestack and tail-pipe emissions and could threaten health and
Among the deletions were conclusions about the likely human
contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate by the National
Research Council that the White House had commissioned and that
President Bush had endorsed in speeches that year. White House
officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global
temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with
the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a
reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum
Institute, questioning that conclusion.
In the end, E.P.A. staff members, after discussions with
administration officials, said they decided to delete the entire
discussion to avoid criticism that they were selectively filtering
science to suit policy.
Administration officials defended the report and said there was
nothing untoward about the process that produced it. Mrs. Whitman said
that she was "perfectly comfortable" with the edited version
and that the differences over climate change should not hold up the
broader assessment of the nation's air, land and water.
"The first draft, as with many first drafts, contained
everything," she said in a brief telephone interview from the CBS
studios in Manhattan, where she was waiting to tape "The Late
Show With David Letterman."
"As it went through the review, there was less consensus on the
science and conclusions on climate change," Ms. Whitman said.
"So rather than go out with something half-baked or not put out
the whole report, we felt it was important for us to get this out
because there is a lot of really good information that people can use
to measure our successes."
James L. Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental
Quality, a White House advisory group, said, "It would be utterly
inaccurate to suggest that this administration has not provided quite
an extensive discussion about the state of the climate. Ultimately,
E.P.A. made the decision not to include the section on climate change
because we had these ample discussions of the subject
But private environmental groups sharply criticized the changes when
they heard of them.
"Political staff are becoming increasingly bold in forcing agency
officials to endorse junk science," said Jeremy Symons, a climate
policy expert at the National Wildlife Federation. "This is like
the White House directing the secretary of labor to alter unemployment
data to paint a rosy economic picture."
Drafts of the report have been circulating for months, but a heavy
round of rewriting and cutting by White House officials in late April
raised protest among E.P.A. officials working on the report.
An April 29 memorandum circulated among staff members said that after
the changes by White House officials, the section on climate "no
longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate
Another memorandum circulated at the same time said that the easiest
course would be to accept the White House revisions but that to do so
would taint the agency, because "E.P.A. will take responsibility
and severe criticism from the science and environmental communities
for poorly representing the science."
The changes were mainly made by the Council on Environmental Quality,
although the Office of Management and Budget was also involved,
several E.P.A. officials said. It is the second time in a year that
the White House has sought to play down global warming in official
Last September, an annual E.P.A. report on air pollution that for six
years had contained a section on climate was released without one, and
the decision to delete it was made by Bush administration appointees
at the agency with White House approval.
Like the September report, the forthcoming report says the issues will
be dealt with later by a climate research plan being prepared by the
Other sections of the coming E.P.A. report - on water quality,
ecological conditions, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and other
issues - all start with a summary statement about the potential
impact of changes on human health and the environment, which are the
two responsibilities of the agency.
But in the "Global Issues" section of the draft returned by
the White House to E.P.A. in April, an introductory sentence reading,
"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the
environment" was cut and replaced with a paragraph that starts:
"The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections
among its components make it a scientific challenge to document
change, diagnose its causes, and develop useful projections of how
natural variability and human actions may affect the global
environment in the future."
Some E.P.A. staff members defended the document, saying that although
pared down it would still help policy makers and the agency address
the climate issue.
"This is a positive step by the agency," said an author
of the report, who did not want to be named, adding that it would help
someone determine "if a facility or pollutant is going to hurt my
family or make it bad for the birds, bees and fish out