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EPA withholds climate change data from reports

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

EPA withholds climate change data from reports

  • Information leaked to newspapers shows that the EPA held back findings about the health impact of an alternative to President Bush’s plan to reduce air pollution and that the White House requested edits to the agency’s report on global warming.

July 2, 2003 — The Environmental Protection Agency has withheld information from an internal analysis that concluded a Senate plan to curb air pollution has superior health benefits to the Bush Administration’s Clear Skies proposal, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The EPA also withheld information about the risks of global warming from a report on the state of the environment after the White House requested edits to eliminate references to studies about the threat of global warming, The New York Times reported June 19.

In September 2002, the Bush Administration removed the climate change section from the EPA’s annual air pollution report for the first time in six years. The removal and withholding of information shows a trend of the administration downplaying global warning, said Sean Moulton of OMB Watch, a Washington-based government watchdog group.

“Constantly, it’s been a dismissive attitude of the issue,” Moulton said. “The danger is that we’ll make the wrong choices. Very often when it comes to a big issue — and global warming is a big issue — we only get one bite at the apple in a very long time. Whatever policy we decide to make on this will be the nation’s effort.

“It’s basically asking the public and Congress to make decisions while you are effectively blindfolding them,” Moulton said.

The Post story was based on a leaked copy of a presentation the EPA prepared last fall that compared Bush’s plan to cut air pollution with an alternative plan by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). The presentation showed the Senate plan was more effective at reducing air pollution and only marginally more expensive that Bush’s Clear Skies plan, the Post reported.

The presentation also said that Carper’s bill would result in 17,800 fewer premature deaths from power plant air pollution by 2020 than would Clear Skies, saving $140 billion a year in health benefits compared to a $90 billion a year savings from Clear Skies, the Post reported.

New findings released by the EPA on Tuesday showed increased health benefits for Bush’s plan but did not provide a new analysis of Carper’s bill. Jeffrey Holmstead, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, denied the Post report that the agency had withheld information and did not address the failure to provide data about the Carper bill’s health benefits, the Post reported Wednesday.

The June 19 Times story is based on a draft copy of the EPA report’s climate section that included the changes sought by the White House. A former EPA official gave the newspaper drafts of the climate section and an internal memo voicing protest to the White House’s proposed changes, the Times reported.

The deleted information included a 2001 White House commissioned National Research Council report showing humans’ likely contribution to global warming, and a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures rose sharply in the last decade compared with the last 1,000 years, the Times reported. In place of the deleted information, administration officials referenced a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning the rise in temperatures, the newspaper said.

The EPA decided to delete the entire section and then-EPA head Christie Whitman told the Times she was “perfectly comfortable” with the edited version because differences over climate change would hold up release of the entire report.

Moulton, of OMB Watch, said the withholding of information for political purposes is frightening, and the EPA is not alone.

“The EPA isn’t the first one,” Moulton said. “It’s just the latest agency that we’ve seen do this kind of political information scrubbing.”


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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