Will a Rick Perry administration squelch climate science the same way the Bush administration did? That’s a question many in the climate science and policy communities are asking after the Houston Chronicle revealed this week that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) deleted an entire chapter on sea level rise and its impacts on Galveston Bay from a forthcoming “State of the Bay” report.
The scientist who wrote that chapter, John Anderson of Rice University in Houston, decried what he sees as politically motivated censorship.
“I don’t think there is any question but that their motive is to tone this thing down as it relates to global change,” Anderson told the Chronicle. “...It’s not about the science. It’s all politics.”
According to a story in The Guardian newspaper, all of the scientists who contributed to the Galveston Bay report are now refusing to have their names on it, in protest to what they see as blatant censorship of the sea level rise sections. The paper also reported that the head of TCEQ is known for his skepticism of manmade climate change.
The Chronicle published the chapter in question, including the heavy-handed edits. In one instance, the term “sea level rise” was edited to read, “sea level change.” In most places, all references to sea level rise from manmade climate change was taken out of the report, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that sea level rise is one of the main impacts of manmade global warming, and that it is already occurring.
This incident raises the issue of whether Perry, the Texas governor who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination and is an outspoken skeptic of the consensus among climate scientists that human activities are very likely a predominant cause of recent global warming, is censoring climate science activities in Texas, and if that would continue should he ascend to the White House. It brings to mind the climate science scandals under the George W. Bush administration, whose White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) routinely watered down scientific assessments of climate change.
In the most widely publicized example of the Bush administration’s political meddling in climate science activities, Philip A. Cooney, Bush’s chief of staff at CEQ, was caught editing multiple climate reports to play down links between climate change and human activities, such as the burning of oil and coal for energy. Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute prior to his stint at the White House, and subsequently left the administration to work for ExxonMobil. In another incident, NASA climate scientist James Hansen spoke out against attempts to prevent him from speaking about climate change in the press and with Congress.
While it’s clear that Perry is suspicious of climate science findings, to the point where he has seemingly bought into the bogus charge that climate scientists doctor their findings in order to obtain funding, he does not have a lengthy record of interfering with the work of state-funded climate science activities in the Lone Star state.
According to one former insider in Texas state government, it’s more likely that this incident resulted from interference by mid-level bureaucrats who thought they were doing the right thing by keeping climate change - a political hot button issue - out of an otherwise noncontroversial report.
“My sense here is that this is probably not the governor’s office being heavy-handed,” said Wendy Gordon, a program coordinator at the University of Texas Environmental Science Institute who spent eight years working for TCEQ under three different commissioners between 1991 and 2008. “I’m doubtful that there is a gag order per say from the governor’s office.”
At the same time, Gordon said it’s abundantly clear that Governor Perry opposes policies that could be perceived as impeding economic development, including many environmental regulations. Thus, managers within Texas government agencies may interpret that to mean that their products should conform to that view as well, and this can result in some manipulation of scientific findings. It’s rare, though, for editing to be so blatant, she said.
“I don’t see as much of the supposed direct fingerprints from the governor’s office, as I just think it’s petty bureaucrats being ignorant and editing a document where it doesn’t need to be edited,” she said.