The Waxman Cometh

Wed, 2007-12-12 10:23Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Waxman Cometh

It has been a long time coming–and its arrival leaves me feeling almost like I'm witnessing the end of an era.

Yesterday Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, published a long awaited report (PDF), 16 months in the making, that probably represents the most comprehensive investigation yet of how the Bush administration has interfered with and suppression the communication of information about the science of climate change.

And the conclusion is stark: “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.”

This isn't, to be sure, a very surprising result.

Such abuses against the integrity of scientific information in the climate arena have, after all, has been much discussed and complained about in the past. I went over it all in detail in my 2005 book The Republican War on Science, but there had been complaints dating back long, long before that–and after my book appeared the outrage stories only continued.

So in some sense, we have heard this all before.

But in another sense, there's something very new about Waxman's report. You see, a journalist like myself has very limited means at his disposal for getting information out of this very strategic (and very unhelpful, and sometimes just plain dishonest) administration.

In essence, we can work from official statements, we can do interviews, and we can use the Freedom of Information Act. All of these tools have been used repeatedly by journalistic investigators to figure out what has really been going on behind the scenes.

But Waxman had far more powerful investigative tools at his disposal. Once Democrats became the majority party in Congress in late 2006 and Waxman took control of the Oversight Committee, he suddenly had powers of subpoena.

And though the Bush administration unsurprisingly resisted providing much requested information to Waxman's committee, ultimately this leverage helped ensure the release of 27,000 pages of internal documents.

Further, the committee took depositions and affidavits, and held public hearings. In short, it acted at an investigative level beyond what's possible for the average journalist.

Based on all this information, the Waxman reports finds that the administration committed the following types of violations: Channeling media requests to speak to government scientists to the White House Council on Environmental Quality for approval, whereupon some were turned down, obviously based on political considerations; editing congressional testimony about climate science to downplay the seriousness, urgency, or certainty levels of the information; and editing many administration reports on the same subject in the same way.

In many of these areas, the Waxman report contains either new evidence of scandals, or additional details about previously known scandals.

First, then, let's recall the previously known scandals.

They include, among many others,

1) the White House's bowdlerizing of the climate change section of a proposed EPA Report on the Environment–the changes were so heavy-handed and so misrepresentative of scientific understanding that EPA decided to pull the entire global warming chapter;

2) the repeated inaccurate editing of government climate science documents by lawyer Philip A. Cooney, who had previously worked on climate change policy at the American Petroleum Institute and later went on to work for ExxonMobil; 3) the attempts to control media access to top climate scientists in the employ of government, such as James Hansen of NASA and Thomas Knutson of NOAA.

Most of us have heard these tales in the past. But the Waxman report fills them out in additional detail and with added evidence–which, in each case, only further confirms the inexcusability of the administration's behavior.

And then there are new scandals that appear in the Waxman report. For instance, the screwy editing of congressional testimony delivered by Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, including changes like the following:

The initial draft read: “The state of the science continues to indicate that modern climate change is dominated by human influences.” Mr. Rainey replaced “dominated” with “affected,” which significantly weakened the statement. His explanatory comment was: “not supported by evidence, there are views all over the place.”

Mr. Rainey deleted the statement: “In many respects we are venturing into the unknown territory with changes in climate, and its associated effects.” His comment was: “doesn’t add anything to testimony & opens up for real hard question.”

All in all, as someone who has been over this same trail of evidence multiple times since the year 2003, reading the Waxman report doesn't fundamentally tell me anything that I didn't know before. However, the report does make what I already knew seem more certain and indisputable than ever before.

This administration not only fiddled, but lied, while the planet burned. Now it has all been documented about as well and as extensively as anyone could ever demand.

It's our job never to forget it.

Comments

A government paid scientist is still bound by the terms of his/her employment with the government so a certain level of censoring/vetting of information is going to happen. This is true of any employee working for any firm in any field. It appears, however, the govt. went beyond acceptable levels of vetting information.

“This administration not only fiddled, but lied, while the planet burned.”,

Well I guess so, if you say so Chris.

With the intensive level of new research on climate taking place in the US, I would say they are working hard to improve climate data before committing to rash decisions.

These scientists are paid from the public purse. Their work is in the domain of the public interest. It is a fundamental right of the public to hear what these scientists really think, unfiltered by self-interested oil industry minions.

Your comment exposes a deep flaw in the neoconservative world view, that is, that employees’ first duty is to act in the interests of their employer. Employees are citizens first, and the duty of all citizens is to act in the public interest.

The neoconservative world view is fundamentally one of self-interest. In such a world view, there is no such thing as the Public Interest, except that which exists in the narrow self-interest of individuals or corporations. The world will increasingly be run by huge hidden private powers, who rule society to maximize their own benefit. Any overall benefit to society caused by their actions will be incidental.

Of course, this world will never come into being. All around the world, neoconservative governments are being flushed down the toilet. Harper and Bush are next.

Catch22, you’re creating a false dichotomy to buttress a weak politicized argument.

“It is a fundamental right of the public to hear what these scientists really think.”

You already know what these scientists think through the publication of their scientific research. However, being a government scientist does not give them complete freedom to speak on issues with serious public policy concerns. That said, I believe the Bush administration overstepped legitimate boundaries in these instances.

“Employees are citizens first, and the duty of all citizens is to act in the public interest.”

That’s such a broad statement that it has little or no meaning. You presuppose the fact that all scientists are qualified to speak on behalf of the public interest; but they are not.

Seems Waxman is embelishing just a tad…

Max Mayfield: ‘No One Forced Me to Say Anything’ http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=3982079

…editing congressional testimony…

Are you at least able to recognize that this is dishonest?

Look, it’s not just information, it’s infrastructure. The Administration just flat out denies it’s even possible to account for saving electricity by using the most efficient standard off-the-shelf gear – and the utility companies have been asking the government to make rules do this.

Part of government is helping businesses do well, and utility companies ask for this kind of help all the time, because they don’t _want_ to compete for doing the cheapest shortest-term crappiest job the free market offers them.

Look – just an excerpt below, see the whole article and other news stories for more. Waxman should be listing ALL this kind of thing as part of his indictment – the Administration doesn’t just hold back ideas, they are holding back infrastructure efficiency.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/12/12/BA1FTSBR2.DTL&type=printable

—–excerpt——

“A 1992 law requires the Energy Department to set efficiency standards for electricity distribution transformers, most of which are owned by utility companies and transmit power to homes and businesses. The department took no action until this October, when it issued standards scheduled to take effect in 2010.

… More stringent standards, the department said, would cause economic harm to the nation without significant environmental benefits.

Environmental groups challenged those statements. … utility companies had joined environmental organizations in seeking stronger standards that would reduce energy waste - saving the companies $11.1 billion - and the need for more pollution-emitting power plants.

If the department simply required new transformers to be as efficient as the best equipment already on the market, environmental organizations said, enough energy would be saved to eliminate the need for nearly 20 large power plants by 2038.

That would also reduce the annual output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide by 700 million tons, more than the amount emitted by all U.S. cars, the groups said.

The Energy Department has said one reason it did not require greater efficiency was that there was no reliable way to measure the potential economic benefits from reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

State Deputy Attorney General Janill Richards, who filed the suit for Brown’s office, noted that the Bush administration made the same argument in defense of its new miles-per-gallon standards for light trucks and SUVs….”

—–end excerpt, see full story and other news —–

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/12/12/BA1FTSBR2.DTL&type=printable

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