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Fighting Climate Science Supression

Climatewire, August 4, 2008

Industry group asks NOAA to withdraw major climate report
By Lauren Morello

Five years after complaints about data quality quashed the first federal assessment of climate change in the United States, an industry group is resurrecting the tactic.

On Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked the government to withdraw a major Climate Change Science Program report released in May. The group argued that the analysis violates a federal law that requires agencies to employ "sound science" because it relies on unpublished information.

Environmental groups blasted the move, calling it an attempt to cast doubt on climate science. But chamber officials maintained that the report includes references to unpublished federal climate studies which leave the public unable to determine whether its conclusions are valid.

"The public cannot presently judge the reliability and objectivity of the synthesis report, because the public cannot access the underlying documents on which the synthesis report is based," the group wrote in official comments it filed Friday with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, the lead agency that produced the analysis.

The report -- the second national climate assessment -- predicts that the United States will "very likely" experience rising sea levels and increasing droughts, heat waves, intense storms and resulting illness and premature death over the next century as climate change intensifies. The document also concludes it is "likely that there has been a substantial human contribution to surface temperature increases in North America."

Bill Kovacs, the chamber's vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, said the group wants the federal government to withdraw the report until the unpublished studies are completed and publicly available. Some of the studies -- a series of 21 reports planned by the Climate Change Science Program -- are not scheduled for release until November.

"We're asking them to withdraw until such a time as they can put everything out as a comprehensive whole," he said. "They can withdraw it, finish the publication and put it back out. It's not a permanent action."

Industry criticisms run deep
But Kovacs also hinted that the industry group's complaints run deeper, extending to the scientific validity of climate models and peer-reviewed studies cited in the report. In addition to work by the Climate Change Science Program, the report references analyses published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and scientific journals.

"We're viewing this as part of the scientific evidence that is going to be put in the public record" as part of EPA's ongoing rulemaking process that will determine whether the agency regulates carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, he said. "It's all the same science that's being relied upon."

Environmentalists who participated in a lawsuit last year that forced the Bush administration to publish the report said they believed the Chamber of Commerce's aim is to suppress findings designed to help policymakers at the federal, state and local levels plan for climate change.

"The Chamber of Commerce is pursuing a last-century, head-in-the-sand strategy to suppress climate information," said Brendan Cummings, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are doing a disservice to all the businesses and communities they purport to represent. Climate models have been the best available science for decades now."

Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace USA, called the request to withdraw the climate report "more of the same."

"The chamber and its allies have been trying for over a decade to slow down the uptake of climate science," he said. "Now we have a clear signal from the Bush administration that there are identifiable local impacts from climate change."

At the heart of the chamber's withdrawal request is the Data Quality Act.

Following on the heels of a successful challenge
Also known as the Information Quality Act, the law requires federal agencies to ensure the integrity of the information they use and distribute. It also allows outside parties to petition to force the correction of information they believe is wrong.

Between 2000 and 2003, the Competitive Enterprise Institute used the act to successfully challenge the first national climate assessment, released in 2000, which it called "junk science." The group said the report's reliance on uncertain climate computer models rendered its conclusions useless and argued that it was not subject to certain laws governing the convening and conduct of advisory panels.

In the end, the Bush administration settled the group's legal challenges by agreeing to place a disclaimer on the national assessment report Web site stating the document was not subject to Data Quality Act guidelines (Greenwire, Oct. 3, 2006).

Environmentalists said they see echoes of that effort in the challenge to the new report.

"They're essentially recycling the same climate denier arguments that CEI used eight years ago," said Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. "That strategy worked for the first national assessment. We don't believe it can work here. Global warming has become so severe and so impossible to deny that even under the Data Quality Act, these arguments should go nowhere."

The comment period on the report ends Aug. 14.

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