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Lawmakers hear of White House interference in release of global warming science

WASHINGTON — Federal scientists have been pressured to play
down global warming, advocacy groups testified Tuesday at the
Democrats' first investigative hearing since taking control of
Congress.

The hearing focused on allegations that the White House for
years has micromanaged the government's climate programs and has
closely controlled what scientists have been allowed to tell the
public.

``It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to
mislead the public about climate change,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman,
D-Calif. Waxman is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform
Committee and a critic of the Bush administration's environmental
policies, including its views on climate.

Climate change also was a leading topic in the Senate, where
presidential contenders for 2008 lined up at a hearing called by
Sen. Barbara Boxer. They expounded — and at times tried to outdo
each other — on why they believed Congress must act to reduce
heat-trapping ``greenhouse'' gases.

``This is a problem whose time has come,'' Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton, D-N.Y., proclaimed.

``This is an issue over the years whose time has come,'' echoed
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, ``We will look back at today
and say this was the moment we took a stand.''

At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a
survey of 279 government climate scientists showing that many of
them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at
downplaying the climate threat.

Their complaints ranged from a
challenge to using the phrase ``global warming'' to raising
uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree, to
keeping scientists from talking to the media.

The survey and separate interviews with scientists ``has brought
to light numerous ways in which U.S. federal climate science has
been filtered, suppressed and manipulated in the last five years,''
Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned
Scientists, told the committee.

Grifo's group, along with the Government Accountability Project,
which helps whistle-blowers, produced the report.

Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute
for Space Studies, said that climate scientists frequently have
been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research,
though NASA's restrictions have been eased.

Prior to the change, interview requests of climate scientists
frequently were ``routed through the White House'' and then turned
away or delayed, said Shindell.

He described how a news release on
his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was
``repeatedly delayed, altered and watered down'' at the insistence
of the White House.

Some Republican members of the committee questioned whether
science and politics ever can be kept separate.

``I am no climate-change denier,'' said Rep. Tom Davis of
Virginia, the top Republican on the committee, but he questioned
whether ``the issue of politicizing science has itself become
politicized.''

``The mere convergence of politics and science does not itself
denote interference,'' said Davis.

Administration officials were not called to testify. In the past
the White House has said it has only sought to inject balance into
reports on climate change.

President Bush has acknowledged concerns
about global warming, but he strongly opposes mandatory caps of
greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that approach would be too
costly.

Roger Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of
Colorado who was invited by GOP lawmakers, said ``the reality is
that science and politics are intermixed.''

Pielke maintained that ``scientific cherry picking'' can be
found on both sides of the climate debate. He took a swipe at the
background memorandum Waxman had distributed and maintained that it
exaggerated the scientific consensus over the impact of climate
change on hurricanes.

Waxman and Davis agreed the administration had not been
forthcoming in providing documents to the committee that would shed
additional light on allegations of political interference in
climate science.

``We know that the White House possesses documents that contain
evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to
mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global
warming and minimize the potential danger,'' said Waxman, adding
that he is ``not trying to obtain state secrets.''

At Boxer's Senate hearing, her predecessor as chairman of the
Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,
had his own view of the science.

There is ``no convincing scientific evidence'' that human
activity is causing global warming, declared Inhofe, who once
called global warming a hoax. ``We all know the Weather Channel would like to have people afraid all the time.''

``I'll put you down as skeptical,'' replied Boxer.