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2005-06-09

White House Environmental Chief Cooney Watered Down Climate Reports

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The New York Times reported that a White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming. The official — Philip Cooney — is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Before coming to the White House in 2001, he was a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute. We speak with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. [includes rush transcript]

On Tuesday, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met at the White House in anticipation of the G8 summit in Scotland next month. Blair came to Washington with the goal of persuading Bush to increase efforts to address global climate change and curb greenhouse gases. So far, Bush has refused, calling only for voluntary measures to slow growth emissions through 2012. In 2001, President Bush withdrew U.S support for the Kyoto climate change agreement claiming that it would hurt the nation’s economy. At Tuesday’s news conference, Bush defended his strategy to combat climate change:

"In terms of climate change, I’ve always said it’s a serious long-term issue that needs to be dealt with. And my administration isn’t waiting around to deal with the issue, we’re acting. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent on research about climate change. We want to know more about it. It’s easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it. And if you look at the statistics, you’ll find the United States has taken the lead on this research."

That was president Bush speaking at Tuesdays press conference. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that a White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming. The official — Philip Cooney — is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Before coming to the White House in 2001, he was a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute.

The Bush administration today defended Cooney’s participation. At his morning briefing for reporters, White House press secretary Scott McClellan, said Cooney’s reports were "scientifically sound." And the Guardian of London reported yesterday that the environmental group Greenpeace obtained documents which showed that President Bush’s global climate policy was heavily influenced by ExxonMobil and other oil companies.

The article states that in briefing papers given to U.S under secretary of State Paula Dobriansky between 2001 and 2004, "the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company’s "active involvement" in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable."

  • Kert Davies, Research Director for Greenpeace
  • Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club
  • Eric Larsen, Arctic Explorer just returned from an expedition that was cut short by the effects of global warming
  • Lonnie Dupre, Arctic Explorer with Greenpeace

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ:At Tuesday’s news conference, Bush defended his strategy to combat climate change.

PRESIDENT BUSH:In terms of climate change, I — we — I’ve always said it’s a serious long-term issue that needs to be dealt with, and my administration isn’t waiting around to deal with the issue. We’re acting. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but we lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent, on research about climate change. We want to know more about it. It’s easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it; and, if you look at the statistics, you’ll find the United States has taken the lead on this research.

AMY GOODMAN:That was President Bush speaking at Tuesday’s news conference. Yesterday, The New York Times reported a White House official who once led the oil industry’s fight against limits on greenhouse gases repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming. The official, Philip Cooney, is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Before coming to the White House in 2001, he was a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute.

The Bush administration today defended Cooney’s participation. At his morning briefing for reporters, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Cooney’s reports were, quote, "scientifically sound." And the Guardian of London has reported that the environmental group, Greenpeace, obtained documents which showed President Bush’s global climate policy was heavily influenced by ExxonMobile and other oil companies.

The article states in briefing papers given to U.S. Under-Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky between 2001 and 2004, quote, "The administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company’s active involvement in helping to determine climate change policy and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable."

Joining us in our studio in Washington, Kert Davies, Research Director for Greenpeace. Here in New York, we’re joined by the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. We welcome you both. Let’s first go to Washington to Kert Davies to talk about the memo that you got a hold of that’s on your website from Exxon — that is sent to Cooney in the White House. Describe its significance.

KERT DAVIES:We obtained through the Freedom of Information Act a memo that, in the wake of one of these controversial E.P.A. reports — there was a report put out by the E.P.A. in 2002 that basically said climate change is real, an urgent problem, there are many problems that will happen because of it, and Bush called it a "memo from the bureaucracy." He downplayed it. But there was a firestorm within the White House because no one edited that, no one took it out of the E.P.A.'s hands; and Phil Cooney was the person who was in charge of that. What we uncovered was a memo — he had apparently called the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that's heavily funded by ExxonMobil, and asked for help in the P.R. battle; and this letter is back from Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to Phil Cooney saying: 'Thanks for asking for help. Somebody has to be fired.' They were gunning for Whitman to be fired over this, and, of course, that didn’t happen; she quit later. But that — You can check that memo out on our website at greenpeaceusa.org.

AMY GOODMAN:We actually asked Mr. Ebell if he could join us; but he wasn’t able to join us today. Carl Pope, the significance of this?

CARL POPE:Well, I think what it reveals is that this administration is determined to postpone action on global warming as long as it possibly can. Remarkably enough, we are about to pass, or the Senate is at least considering passing — I hope they don’t —- an energy bill which the administration admits will raise gasoline prices and increase imported oil. They’re doing this in spite of the fact that ExxonMobil announced quietly last week that they recognize that the world is going to run out of oil. Which means that what we’re paying at the pump today is a fraction of what we’ll be paying in ten years unless we do something to change our energy policy; but this administration, from the very beginning, has worked actively with people like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, like ExxonMobil, to suppress government science. They’ve taken reports off websites -—

AMY GOODMAN:Well, ExxonMobil funds the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

CARL POPE:And ExxonMobil, yes — this is not — this is what one would colloquially describe as a conspiracy, except, I guess, the government can’t conspire; but if this was anybody but the government doing it you would describe this as a conspiracy to prevent us from hooking our dependence on oil until it’s too late, until it’s too late for the climate, until it’s too late for our national security — which some young men and women in Iraq might say is already today too late for our security — and until it’s too late to take action for our economy. So we are being put at risk by really something that is unprecedented. The government is not working for the public interest. The government is working for the private interest of one industry, which, perhaps coincidentally, is the primary financial support of the political party that runs the government.

JUAN GONZALEZ:Well, Carl, the revelations in The New York Times yesterday about another official from the Council on Environmental Quality of the White House editing out scientific statements that might indicate the tremendous impact that global warming is having. It reminds me of another official, James Connaughton who was doing the same thing over the ground zero environmental issues that when it — E.P.A. was issuing its releases he also was editing them to downplay risks to the public. So, this seems to be the Council of Environmental Quality’s job within the Bush administration, to keep information from the public.

CARL POPE:I think that’s correct. And, in fact, one of the things that’s striking is that many of these stories that are now breaking have actually been on the public record for several years; but in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center and the invasion of Iraq, the media were simply afraid to touch the stories. This document which Greenpeace has posted, you know, they actually released two years ago. I actually covered it in my book. The Attorney General of Connecticut protested it at the time. The mainstream media didn’t say a peep because at that point we were fresh from victory in Baghdad.

JUAN GONZALEZ:And, of course, the resignation of Christy Whitman was an indication, as she has reluctantly, but at least put out some criticism of the Bush administration’s environmental policies — that this is an extreme — an extreme view, even within the Republican Party in terms of how to deal with the nation’s environment.

CARL POPE:Well, I think one of the remarkable things is that James McFarland — Robert McFarland, who was Ronald Reagan’s National Security Adviser, has come out publicly and said that it is desperately overdue for us to do something about our dependence on oil. We have a huge number of extremely conservative voices in this country who are saying that if we really are serious about national security, we need to take action about our dependence on oil and about global warming; and the Bush administration is not only willing to ignore voices like the Sierra Club’s, they’re willing to ignore voices from the national security establishment saying that the policy we are embarked upon is dangerous, reckless, and unwarranted.

AMY GOODMAN:Why is there a Department of Environmental Quality within the White House when you have the E.P.A.?

CARL POPE:The Council on Environmental Quality’s function originally was to make sure that all government agencies honestly assessed and reported to the public before they took action what the environmental results of those actions would be. C.E.Q. was put in place under Richard Nixon to be the government’s watchdog on the honesty of whether or not government agencies were accurately telling the people what their actions would do. The Bush administration — and this is unprecedented, until this administration, that is the function C.E.Q. played under administrations that I often agreed with and under administrations I often disagreed with; the Bush administration has turned C.E.Q. from being a watchdog into being a censor.

AMY GOODMAN:Janice Brown, just approved by the Senate yesterday. Federal judge. Can you talk about her significance in terms of environmental issues?

CARL POPE:Justice Brown believes that the Supreme Court, when it began in the 1930s, ruling that Congress had the right to protect the public from corporate pollution and other corporate harm, was wrong. Her jurisprudence really does not allow a role for the federal government in keeping Americans safe — in insuring that the air they breathe, the water they drink, the communities in which they live are not polluted, contaminated, and poisoned by corporate irresponsibility. So, putting Justice Brown on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which hears most of the critical cases about public health and pollution is a very, very serious threat both directly to our health and in a longer run, perhaps more alarmingly, to the doctrine that it is the job of the federal government to protect us. Judge Brown really believes that for the federal government to keep us safe, is to make us, in her words, slaves.

JUAN GONZALEZ:I’d like to ask Kert Davies in Washington, the —you have been actively involved, Greenpeace, in both Democratic and Republican administrations in trying to affect their environmental policies. How would you rate the Bush administration in terms of past administrations around its efforts dealing with the environment?

KERT DAVIES:They’re a disaster. The worst part about it is they’re very clever. You know, they name things like the "Clear Skies" and the "Healthy Forests Initiative." You know, they have this Orwellian trick that they do to try to confuse the public. And on global warming, they’ve successfully crafted a plan that effectively is, you know, we’re all in the party boat and the boat is sinking and they’re telling us: 'Hey, the water you're feeling on your feet might be a natural phenomenon. Don’t worry about it. We’re putting some research into developing a bailer.’ Meanwhile, there’s plenty of good ways to bail the water out now, and they’re avoiding those.

The key here is the science, and in global warming — global warming is the best case study of the impact of science on policy; and, as you see, the actions of the C.E.Q., trying to change the tone of the science, emphasize uncertainty. They know from message testing and polling that people have a little bit — have questions about global warming. They’re trying and Exxon deliberately is trying — there was a memo revealed in 1998 that a deliberate plan of confusion by Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute to get people to question global warming and focus on the uncertainty. They know that if the public remains confused about it, the public remains in a questioning state, unlike in Europe, there will be no political action. There is no urgency. Now, the biggest irony of all this is that the leadership right now is coming from the Republicans. You see Pataki in New York doing amazing things on renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Northeast states are suing utilities over it. You have Schwarzenegger announcing major cuts in greenhouse gases, and you have Senator McCain, who is putting forward the only viable bill on it, and he’s going to go to the plate on it. This is — he has nuclear power in that which we totally disagree with; but, on the face of it, he’s battling Bush over global warming. So this is develop — we’re at a tipping point right now, and you’re going to see the Bush administration and companies like Exxon increasingly marginalized in that fight.

AMY GOODMAN:Finally, we just have 30 seconds, but, Carl Pope, this quote of President Bush at his news conference on Tuesday as saying: "I don’t know if you are aware of this, but we lead the world when it comes to dollars spent, millions of dollars spent, on research about climate change."

CARL POPE:You can spend a lot of money on research, but if you let the oil industry censor the research after you complete it and if you don’t act on the findings, you might as well burn the money on the White House steps.

AMY GOODMAN:I want to thank you both for being with us, Kert Davies of Greenpeace and Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club and also co-author of the book, Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Last month, two U.S. citizens attempted the first ever unsupported summer crossing of the Arctic Ocean in order to highlight the impacts of global warming. They join us now in our D.C. studio. Welcome to Lonnie Dupre and Eric Larsen.

LONNIE DUPRE: Thank you.

ERIC LARSEN: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you found?

LONNIE DUPRE: Well, I’ll tell you, we were out on the ice for about three weeks, and we found a lot of broken sea ice, a lot of half a mile open cracks in the ice that we had to try to negotiate with our canoes, and found lots of polar bears, as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Where did you start your journey, and how long did it take in total?

LONNIE DUPRE: Yes, we started the journey on Cape Arctichesky in Siberia. And our attempt was to travel from there to the North Pole, and then on to Canada, purpose of the expedition, of course, to bring attention to global warming and show people how global warming is impacting the Arctic Ocean.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Larsen, can you talk about how you know whether it’s global warming that is changing the environment?

ERIC LARSEN: Well, the changes that we saw were very unusual, and the breakup of the sea ice in the time that we were there was unseasonal, and so we’re — we can’t 100% say for sure that that’s directly related to global warming. However, we do know that the more of these events that happen, the more likely the cause is global warming.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us a little bit more about what you saw?

ERIC LARSEN: Well, we saw a lot of ice and a lot of snow and a lot of water. We traveled, starting out from Cape Arctichesky in Siberia trying to go north to the North Pole and eventually Canada, and we found pressure ridges that were towering to about 15 or 20 feet. We found a lot of deep snow, which was unusual. We found more leads, which were cracks in the ice with open water and also brash ice, which is ice that’s ground in between those leads, in between — in the water, as well, which made travel difficult. So, we saw a lot of these conditions that were unusual, plus a very — actually opposite drift of what’s normal, and the drift is the direction of the movement of the ice. We wanted to be going north with the normal drift of the ice being northwest. We actually ended up drifting southeast at one point. We drifted four miles south or southeast of where we actually had started the expedition. So we were traveling on a conveyor belt of ice, waking up in the morning, traveling for eight hours and getting to the — setting up the tent at night and being further behind than when we started in the morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Larsen with Lonnie Dupre, Arctic explorers. A final comment, Lonnie Dupre. You bring what message back to this country?

LONNIE DUPRE: Well, yeah, the Arctic Ocean is basically the thermostat of the world, the air conditioning, so to speak, as well as Antarctica, as well. And the scientists are saying that by 2050, the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free and therefore, we would ——the polar bears would go extinct, the icecaps in Antarctica and Greenland would start to shrink and rise ocean levels and displace millions of people. So this is a -— global warming is a problem. We need to act now on it, not tomorrow, not the next day, but now.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lonnie Dupre, Eric Larsen, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Arctic explorers with a message.

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