Union of Concerned Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists has just released a 68-page report that claims that Exxon Mobil has funded a disinformation campaign on global warming based on the strategy and tactics used by the tobacco industry. Nearly everything in the report is recycled uncritically from other sources. It’s mostly rubbish. Exxon Mobil can defend themselves, but I will comment on the ridiculous charges and misinformation about CEI.

Here’s an example. A Freedom of Information Act request several years ago revealed an e-mail that I had sent to Phil Cooney, then-chief-of-staff to the Chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, in 2002. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times published a front-page story that the Bush Administration had conceded that global warming was a big problem by quietly sending a report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate Action Report 2002, as it was called, contained major portions of the 2000 National Assessment on the Impacts of Climate Change, a junk science report produced by the Clinton Administration that the Bush Administration had disavowed as a result of a lawsuit filed by CEI. The concession to global warming alarmism reported by Revkin is the fact that Climate Action Report 2002 used a big chunk of the National Assessment.

As soon as this story broke, CEI sent out a press release attacking the EPA and its administrator, Christie Todd Whitman. The reason we did this is because Revkin reported that the report had been produced by EPA. At that point Phil Cooney left a message on my answering machine asking me to ring him and saying that he needed my help. Soon after I left a message on his answering machine. After not hearing back from Phil for several hours, I sent him an e-mail saying that we would be glad to help. This e-mail is described in the UCS report as a “conspiratorial communication”. If anyone from UCS had bothered to ask me, they could have gotten the facts straight.

When Phil Cooney called me back, he explained that the help he wanted was for us to stop attacking EPA and not to call for President Bush to fire Christie Todd Whitman because Whitman had nothing to do with the report to the UN and EPA was not ultimately responsible for the report. As an interagency document on an environmental issue, CEQ was in charge of conducting the interagency review and on producing the final version of the report. As chief of staff at CEQ, he–Phil Cooney–had directed the interagency review and final edits. Thus the help Phil Cooney wanted to ask me for was to blame him and ask for him to be fired rather than Christie Todd Whitman. I replied that we would stop attacking Whitman, but wouldn’t attack him personally because he was not an appointee nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Not much of a conspiracy. The Union of Concerned Scientists (you too can become a Concerned Scientist by sending them $25) could have discovered these simple facts by contacting me. But of course it suits their purposes better to twist snippets of information to discredit their targets.

The story doesn’t end with my e-mail to Phil Cooney. CEI pursued Climate Action Report 2002 through an initial petition to the President to have its submission to the UN rescinded, which was rejected. CEI later filed a second lawsuit in federal court against the National Assessment on the grounds that it did not meet the minimal requirements of the Federal Data Quality Act. We dropped that suit when the Office of Science and Technology Policy agreed to put a disclaimer on the National Assessment web site that the document had not been subjected to the Federal Data Quality guidelines. That caused some of the authors of this junk science report to write a nasty letter to the White House and to start claiming that the Bush Administration was suppressing scientific research. If they are, they aren’t doing a very good job. The junk science National Assessment is still available on more than one federal web site.

It also produced another front page story in the New York Times for reporter Andrew Revkin. The first story claimed that Climate Action Report 2002 was an admission by the Bush Administration that global warming is real and serious. The second story claimed that in producing Climate Action Report 2002 the White House had doctored the science. This goofy claim is based on the fact that in using a big chunk of the National Assessment in Climate Action Report 2002, Phil Cooney had edited the text. Since Climate Action Report 2002 is not a scientific report but an official U. S. government policy document, editing the text to reflect accurately administration policy should be obligatory. Rather than doing anything wrong, Phil Cooney was doing his job. Moreover, in editing the text what he was trying to do (as an examination of the edits he made will show) was to correct the National Assessment text by replacing the most obvious junk science claims with information and conclusions taken from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Third Assessment Report. Rather than suppressing science, Phil Cooney was trying to get the science right in the document he was editing.

But that is not the kind of effort that holds any interest for the Union of Concerned Scientists.