WASHINGTON -- Federal scientists have been pressured to play down global warming, advocacy groups testified yesterday at the Democrats' first investigative hearing since taking control of Congress.
The hearing focused on allegations that the White House for years has micromanaged the government's climate programs and has closely controlled what scientists have been allowed to tell the public.
"It appears there may have been an orchestrated campaign to mislead the public about climate change," said Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California. Waxman is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a critic of the Bush administration's environmental policies.
Climate change also was a leading topic in the Senate, where presidential contenders for 2008 lined up at a hearing called by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. They expounded, and at times tried to outdo one another, on why they believed Congress must act to reduce heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases.
"This is a problem whose time has come," Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, proclaimed.
"This is an issue over the years whose time has come," echoed Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, said that "for decades far too many have ignored the warning" about climate change. "Will we look back at today and say this was the moment we took a stand?"
At the House hearing, two private advocacy groups produced a survey of 279 government climate scientists in which many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the climate threat. Their complaints ranged from a challenge to using the phrase "global warming" to raising uncertainty on issues on which most scientists basically agree to keeping scientists from talking to the media.
The survey and separate interviews with scientists have "brought to light numerous ways in which US federal climate science has been filtered, suppressed, and manipulated in the last five years," Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, testified.
Grifo's group, along with the Government Accountability Project, which helps whistle-blowers, produced the report.
Drew Shindell, a climate scientist with National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said climate scientists frequently have been dissuaded from talking to the media about their research, though NASA's restrictions have been eased.
Prior to the change, interview requests of climate scientists frequently were "routed through the White House" and then turned away or delayed, Shindell said.
He described how a news release on his study forecasting a significant warming in Antarctica was "repeatedly delayed, altered, and watered down" at the insistence of the White House.
Some Republican members of the committee questioned whether science and politics ever can be kept separate.
"I am no climate-change denier," said Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, the top Republican on the committee. "The mere convergence of politics and science does not itself denote interference," said Davis.
Administration officials were not called to testify. In the past the White House has said it has only sought to inject balance into reports on climate change. President Bush opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that the approach would be too costly.
For more information, go to the website of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at oversight.house.gov .