Representative Henry Waxman (Courtesy of The U.S. House of Representatives)
Congressman Henry Waxman tells host Steve Curwood that legislators need accurate science, unaltered by political motivation, so they can make informed decisions when making policy. The California Democrat held a hearing where scientists gave testimony about government suppression of information about climate change.
CURWOOD: Now you might remember that James Hansen made headlines last year when he spoke to this show, and others, about being pressured by the Bush Administration not to discuss his research on climate change. But it seems Dr. Hansen wasn’t alone. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, fully a third of federal scientists responding to a survey perceived that they or their colleagues were pressured to play down terms like global warming in order to conform with the administration’s skeptical view of climate change.
Now the House Committee on Oversight is probing this alleged pattern of scientific censorship. California Democrat Henry Waxman chairs the committee and joins me now. Representative Waxman, welcome to Living on Earth.
WAXMAN: Hello, good to be with you.
CURWOOD: Congressman, what sort of evidence is being offered that scientists at public agencies were pressured to change results for political reasons?
WAXMAN: We heard pretty dramatic testimony, ah, from the union of concerned scientists who did a survey of government scientists who, ah, told in very detailed ways how they’ve had pressure put on them from people in the political side of this administration that didn’t want the science that they were working on to be presented. We also have had an opportunity at the staff level to review documents that the Council on Environmental Quality, and the staff reviewed documents showed a lot of what the climate change global warming scientists were trying to say were actually presented to the public and to the Congress in a filtered way. A former chairman of our committee, Republican congressman Tom Davis, and I wrote a very strong letter to the Council on Environmental Quality demanding all these documents. Our staff was able to go in and review them but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to receive them. These aren’t state secrets or classified information. And we need to get the documents and we need to get the science, from the scientists so that we can make informed decisions on policy.
CURWOOD: What connection, if any, do you see between the things that you’ve heard about and the Bush Administration’s reluctance to act on climate change?
WAXMAN: I think that what we’ve seen here is a political interference with the scientists. Some of the scientists told us that, um, that the changes that were made for example by the head of the Council on Environmental Quality who had , previous to that job been a lobbyist and lawyer for the petroleum institute, that he was making sure that when the scientific information was turned over to the Congress, it didn’t have some of the stark reality of what some of the scientists were reporting.
One of the views of which now there is a scientific consensus is that the global warming problem is due to man made sources. And rather than that clear statement being presented there was an edit that said that: it is unclear weather the causes for global climate change is due to man made problems. And that, of course, that is a complete reversal of what the scientists were trying to tell us.
CURWOOD: You say that the White House Council on Environmental Quality has been reluctant to turn over documents to you regarding this. When will you seek subpoenas to get those documents?
WAXMAN: We sent a very strong letter today indicating that after 6 months of trying these documents we’re not going to put up with any further delays. We do have the ability to subpoena but I hope that won’t be necessary.
CURWOOD: When will you have the leadership of these agencies in front of your committee to explain, or respond to these allegations?
WAXMAN: We’ll look at the issue further once we get the documents and make a decision as to further hearings.
CURWOOD: We heard in response to your hearings the criticism that, look, these stories, have been talked about before Congressman Waxman is just out to settle some old scores or get some partisan points against a Republican administration. How fair is that criticism?
WAXMAN: Well it’s certainly not partisan when it’s a bipartisan insistence that we get this information. And we are talking about the matters of dealing with the science on global warming. And every day we get new and new reports of reasons why we ought to be alarmed by the fact that we’re not doing anything to reduce our exposure to the pollutants that are warming our planet and causing damage at a faster rate than anybody ever envisioned.
CURWOOD: Henry Waxman is the California Democrat who now chairs the House committee on Government Oversight and Reform. Thank you so much sir.
WAXMAN: You’re welcome.
CURWOOD: We asked the White House Council on Environmental Quality for a response to the allegations of censorship. In an email reply a Council spokesperson wrote, "Claims that the Administration interfered with scientists are false. The nearly $2 billion worth of climate science we publish annually leads the world and speaks for itself."
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