By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Bush administration officials acknowledged yesterday that they heavily edited testimony on global warming, delivered to Congress on Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the president's top science adviser and other officials questioned its scientific basis.
Senate Democrats say they want to investigate the circumstances involved in the editing of CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding's written testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on "climate change and public health." Gerberding testimony shrank from 12 pages to six after it was reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.
The OMB removed several sections of the testimony that detailed how global warming would affect Americans, according to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, because John H. Marburger III, who directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and his staff questioned whether Gerberding's statements matched those released this year by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"As I understand it, in the draft there was broad characterizations about climate change science that didn't align with the IPCC," Perino told reporters yesterday. "When you try to summarize what is a very complicated issue and you have many different experts who have a lot of opinions, and you get testimony less than 24 hours before it's going to be given, you -- scientists across the administration were taking a look at it, and there were a decision that she would focus where she is an expert, which is on CDC."
White House officials eliminated several successive pages of Gerberding's testimony, beginning with a section in which she planned to say that many organizations are working to address climate change but that, "despite this extensive activity, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed," and that the "CDC considers climate change a serious public concern."
In another deleted part of her original testimony, the CDC director predicted that areas in the northern United States "will likely bear the brunt of increases in ground-level ozone and associated airborne pollutants. Populations in mid-western and northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity and duration."
The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, first reported that Gerberding's testimony had been edited.
In an e-mail yesterday, OSTP spokeswoman Kristin Scuderi wrote that the president's science adviser and his aides were trying to "strengthen the testimony, not to remove the weak sections entirely." After Marburger questioned "inconsistencies in the use of language between the [IPCC] report and the testimony . . . the OMB editor decided to transmit a version that simply struck the first eight pages" because there was not time to reconcile the concerns raised by Marburger's office and Gerberding's original statement.
But several experts on the public health impact of climate change, having reviewed Gerberding's testimony, said there were no inconsistencies between the original testimony and the IPCC's recent reports.
"That's nonsense," said University of Wisconsin at Madison public health professor Jonathan Patz, who served as an IPCC lead author for its 2007, 2001 and 1995 reports. "Dr. Gerberding's testimony was scientifically accurate and absolutely in line with the findings of the IPCC."
Just as the CDC director predicted climate change could exacerbate air-pollution-related diseases, the IPCC 2001 report predicted that dangerous summer ozone levels may increase across 50 cities in the eastern U.S., and said, "The large potential population exposed to outdoor air pollution, translates this seemingly small relative risk into a substantial attributable health risk."
Michael McCally, executive director of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the editing means that the "White House has denied a congressional committee's access to scientific information about health and global warming," adding: "This misuse of science and abuse of the legislative process is deplorable."
Gerberding, however, said in a statement yesterday that the editing did not alter the underlying message of her testimony.
"It is important to note that the edits made to the written testimony document did not alter or affect my messages to the Senate committee," she said. "I was perfectly happy with the testimony I gave to the committee, and was very pleased for the opportunity to have a frank and candid discussion with the Senate committee on the public health issues associated with climate change."
But Gerberding's statement did not satisfy Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee's chairman, who wrote Bush yesterday to demand that he turn over "a copy of all drafts of the CDC director's testimony sent to the Office of Management and Budget or other offices within the Executive Office of the President or other agencies," along with any comments administration officials made on the draft testimony.