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Checking on the Environment

In its July 14, 2005 issue THE ECONOMIST pulled no punches in its evaluation of the controversial policy stance of the U.S. on global warming:
The Bush administration has acknowledged on numerous occasions that global warming is real and caused partly by humans. The snag is that when the cameras have gone, White House officials have quietly censored scientific reports to emphasize lingering uncertainties and blocked progress on climate policies in other artful ways.
THE ECONOMIST was referring to several recent stories related to the apparent editing of scientific reports to serve political ends. The NEW YORK TIMES broke the story of the editing of climate change reports by Philip A. Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist, then chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney has since resigned from the CEQ and to take a position at Exxon Mobil. The Administration maintains that changes were nonsubstantive and made as part of a normal oversight process.

That was back last summer. In January 2006, the administration faced additional charges of editing science for political ends. THE NEW YORK TIMES published under the headline "Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him," the story of NASA's top climate change scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen maintained that "officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists."

There has already been fallout from Hansen's statements. A political appointee, George C. Deutsch, who worked in NASA's PR department resigned in the first week of February. "THE NEW YORK TIMES reported that Deutsch tried to limit reporters' access to Jim Hansen, a noted NASA climate scientist, and insisted that a Web designer insert the word 'theory' before any mention of the Big Bang." NASA also said it was reviewing the practices of its public affairs office.

This is not the first time in American history that science and political policy have come into conflict — but today the battle is getting a lot of publicity. A petition drive aimed at publicizing perceived abuses in the administration's use and oversight of science by the environmental advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists has gathered the signatures of 6,000 scientists — including 49 Nobel laureates and 154 members of the U.S. National Academies of Science. In addition to the stir over the climate change reports, the administration is facing accusations that reports on the environmental effects of grazing on public lands were altered to support a proposed new policy. And, the upcoming debate on the President's energy bill in Congress is bound to elicit more charges and counter charges about the stewardship of government lands. What is the right ratio of policy to science? Or vice versa? Read more from both sides below and talk back on the message boards.

In addition, explore NOW's in depth coverage of science and the environment.
  • Debate — Global Warming, Genetically Modified Food, The Clear Skies Program, Teaching Evolution
  • Facts and Figures — Auto Emissions, World Water Wasters, History of the Clean Air Act, PCB Facts and Laws
  • Resource Maps — Local Environmental Quality, Toxic Emissions, Ecycling
  • Features and More — National Parks in Danger? The Roadless Rule, Kids and Chemicals, Mercury in Fish


Democracy Tools
Smog protest, Los Angeles, c. 1950s
DEBATE: See how the public debate over global warming has become political. Also, get perspectives from all sides on the Clear Skies Initiative. Plus, is genetically modified food the wave of the future? And is teaching evolution a thing of the past?
Drops of water
FACTS AND FIGURES: The United States uses the most fresh water in the world. Get facts and laws on PCBs and mercury in the environment. Read the history of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. SUVs, emissions and driving green — a primer. Plus coal's role in the U.S. and worldwide.
WPA poster of a tree
RESOURCE MAPS: Check on the air and water quality with our Environmental Resource Map. Monitor toxic spills and environmental security. Find out where to get rid of toxic e-trash. Also, NOW has environmental safety checklists for your home, your school and your neighborhood.
Hiker in a red rock canyon
FEATURES: Who's monitoring our nuclear reactors and chemical plants? Why is the Mississippi Delta disappearing? Ken Cook on the pollution in people. The battle over the Roadless Rule. And, are our National Parks and Wilderness Areas in danger?



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