Why does the President's desk always look so clean in photos? There's nary a single inter-office memo. One would imagine that Barack Obama would be getting inundated with manifestos about how he should be doing his job.
Well, he actually is being deluged, and one of the most recent pieces of paper is a set of "science must lead" principles cobbled together by a coalition of environmental groups (with input from investor watchdogs and low-income organizations). It's the "National Call to Action on Global Warming." Martin Luther posted his theses on the church door, but this is 2009 so you can read this one here (pdf).
According to Environment America Federal Global Warming Program Director Emily Figdor, "This is our chance to get it right. As the President and Congress develop the details of their plan, we urge them to put science first."
Since most people look at Vanity Fair for the Annie Leibovitz photos and don't read the articles, you may have missed an article in the February issue that, in oral history form, outlines the misdeeds of the Bush Administration. One of the more damning indictments comes from Rick Piltz, a former senior associate director at Bush's Climate Change Science Program.
Piltz resigned from that snakepit in March 2005. Now he heads Climate Science Watch, a program of the whistleblowing Government Accountability Project. The Daily Green reached Piltz in Washington.
According to Piltz, Bush's first EPA chief, Christie Todd Whitman, went to Europe early in the early days of the administration and told European leaders that the U.S. would take a proactive approach to global warming (as Bush himself had promised during the campaign). "But when Whitman got back and started talking about climate change, Bush told her, 'We're not going there,'' Piltz said. "A number of senators, including Chuck Hagel [R-Nebraska] had written to the President on the issue, and Cheney ginned up a response reassuring them. Whitman has said she went into the Oval Office at the same time Cheney was coming out -- Cheney had basically cut her off at the knees."
Piltz experienced the political interference directly through Phil Cooney, an oil lobbyist and American Petroleum Institute lawyer who was appointed as chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "He was oil's inside man, with contacts not only with Karl Rove and Cheney's office, but with climate disinformation campaigns at groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute," Piltz says.
Piltz says he first met Cooney, a lawyer, at a high-level Commerce Department meeting. "We talked briefly, and agreed that climate science was complicated and difficult to get your arms around," Piltz said. "I thought I was meeting a colleague. But it soon became clear that Cooney's motivation was to create a predatory relationship with any kind of scientific uncertainty. If you had a National Academy of Science study making very strong statements suggesting climate change was real, he would ignore all that and in his editing leave in only the uncertainties, trying to create the idea there was a great debate going on among scientists. He wanted to cherry pick statements to play down global warming."
That was then. "This is a new day," says the deputy director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Climate Program, Lexi Shultz. "It was clear that the last administration was more interested in suppressing scientific information than in crafting policies to respond to climate change and other issues. The Obama administration has mentioned a number of times that science is important. The President has made it clear he understands global warming and the urgency of acting, and we're encouraged by the early signs and have high expectations of action this year."
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