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Ex-US official says Cheney pushed for cutting health official's climate testimony

Vice President Dick Cheney's office pushed for major deletions in congressional testimony on the public health consequences of climate change, fearing the presentation by a leading US health official might make it harder to avoid regulating greenhouse gases, a former environment official maintains.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Vice President Dick Cheney's office pushed for major deletions in congressional testimony on the public health consequences of climate change, fearing the presentation by a leading US health official might make it harder to avoid regulating greenhouse gases, a former environment official maintains.

When six pages were cut from testimony on climate change and public health by the head of the Centers for Disease Control last October, the White House insisted the changes were made because of reservations raised by White House advisers about the accuracy of the science.

But Jason K. Burnett, until last month the senior adviser on climate change to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson, says that Cheney's office was deeply involved in getting nearly half of the CDC's original draft testimony removed.

"The Council on Environmental Quality and the office of the vice president were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony (concerning) ... any discussions of the human health consequences of climate change," Burnett has told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The three-page letter, a response to an inquiry by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat and the panel's chairwoman, was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Boxer planned a news conference later in the day.

Burnett, 31, a lifelong Democrat who resigned his post last month as associate deputy EPA administrator because of disagreements over the agency's response to climate change, describes deep political concerns at the White House, including in Cheney's office, about linking climate change directly to public health or damage to the environment.

Scientists believe manmade pollution is warming the earth and if the process is not reversed it will cause significant climate changes that pose broad public health problems from increases in disease to more injuries from severe weather.

Senate and House committees have been trying for months to get e-mail exchanges and other documents to determine the extent of political influence on government scientists, but have been rebuffed.

The letter by Burnett for the first time suggests that Cheney's office was deeply involved in downplaying the impacts of climate change as related to public health and welfare, Senate investigators believe.

Cheney's office also objected last January over congressional testimony by Administrator Johnson that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment."

An official in Cheney's office "called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed" with references to climate change harming the environment deleted, Burnett said. Nevertheless, the phrase was left in Johnson's testimony.

Cheney's office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality worried that if key health officials provided detailed testimony about global warming's consequences on public health or the environment, it could make it more difficult to avoid regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, Burnett believes.

The EPA currently is examining whether carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, poses a danger to public health and welfare. The Supreme Court has said if it does, it must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Nowhere were these White House concerns more apparent than when CDC Director Julie Gerberding, the head of the government's premier public health watchdog, testified about climate change and public health before Boxer's committee last October. The White House deleted six of the original 14 pages of Gerberding's testimony, including a list of likely public health impacts of global warming.

The White House, at the urging of Cheney's office, "requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change," wrote Burnett.