Wednesday, June 08, 2005

White House and Oil-Friendly Edits 

The NY Times reported today on the editing activities of Philip A. Cooney, the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Cooney edited government-issued reports on climate change in such a way as to downplay or even dismiss any causative links between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. In many cases these edits changed the meanings of the reports as written and approved by government scientists and other White House senior officials.

Prior to his current position, Cooney was:

"...the 'climate team leader' and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training."

This situation of a political appointee overriding the reports and processes of scientific professionals resembles the news earlier this year that administration appointees directed career EPA scientists to follow less strict standards in setting mercury emission guidelines, so that the guidelines would be in line with the president's proposed Clear Skies Initiative.

In his defense, I should point out that it appears that many of the edits were minor changes, sometimes involving just a few words. In one case he changed "is" to "may." A simple debate over fact vs. possibility. In another case he just added three words in front of "uncertainties." Of course, those three little words were "significant and fundamental," which could be interpreted to amplify the level of uncertainty, if you want to look at it that way. Okay, so maybe a couple of little well-placed words can make a big difference. Yeah, that's one of the standard tools in the Bush administration toolbox.

The NY Times has published copies of two documents with Cooney's handwritten edits here.

In 2000, while Cooney was still with the API, he addressed a meeting of the National Assessment Synthesis Team of the US Global Change Research Program. Minutes of the meeting indicate that Cooney's concerns on behalf of the petroleum industry at that time are the same as his edits indicate now that he is working for the Council on Environmental Quality. The minutes also show that he was the only one voicing these concerns, and that they were pretty much dismissed by the group.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 2:23 PM