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USA: EPA Downplayed Climate Change in Environmental Challenges Report

by H. Josef HebertAssociated Press
June 20th, 2003

The Environmental Protection Agency scrapped a detailed assessment of climate change from an upcoming report on the state of the environment after the White House directed major changes and deletions to emphasize the uncertainties surrounding global warming.

The changes prompted an EPA staff memorandum that said the revisions demanded by the White House were so extensive that they would embarrass the agency because the section "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change.

The climate section was part of a comprehensive review by the agency on major environmental concerns and what is needed to address them. The assessment has been a top priority of EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who wanted it completed before she departs the agency next week.

Contrary to early EPA drafts, the final document, according to EPA officials and papers, gives only a cursory mention of climate change, one of the most daunting and complex environmental challenges facing the world.

Copies of the draft documents and EPA memos, obtained Thursday by the Associated Press, were first reported by the New York Times.

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the section was scaled back because "we didn't want to hold up the rest of the report" because of disagreements about the climate section and the lack of "consensus on the science and conclusions" on global warming.

Whitman told the Times she was "perfectly comfortable" with the edited version.

According to the EPA papers, the White House ordered removal of several references that suggested rising global temperatures would have an impact on human health and the ecosystem, and softened other sentences to stress the uncertainties surrounding climate change.

"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment," the earlier EPA draft said in a section of the report dealing with "global issues."

An edited version said that climate change "may have potentially profound consequences," but "The complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make it a scientific challenge to document change, document its cause, and develop useful projections on how natural variability and human actions may affect the global environment in the future."

The revised draft removed a reference to a 1999 study showing global temperatures had risen sharply in the past decade compared to the previous 1,000 years. But it did cite another study, partly paid for by the oil industry, challenging the uniqueness of recent temperature increases.

And it deleted a National Research Council (NRC) finding that various studies have suggested that recent warming was unusual and likely due to human activities. The 2001 NRC report had been commissioned by the White House and cited in the past by President Bush.

The revisions, some ordered by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and others by the Office of Management and Budget, prompted sharp protests among some in the EPA's office dealing with climate change. It also sparked an internal debate on how to deal with the issue.

If the changes are accepted, the EPA "will take severe criticism from the science and environmental communities for poorly representing the science," said an April 29 EPA staff memo. The memo said the final draft "undercuts" key scientific studies on climate change, including the pivotal findings by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The memo outlined two other options: Seek further compromise and possibly "antagonize the White House more" or remove most of the climate section from the document. "EPA will take criticism" by removing the section, said the memo, but that "may be the only way to meet both White House and EPA needs."





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