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Major editing seen in CDC testimony on climate change

WASHINGTON - The White House significantly edited congressional testimony given yesterday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Atlanta-based CDC, the government's premier disease-monitoring agency, told a Senate hearing that climate change "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans."

But her prepared testimony was devoted entirely to the CDC's preparation, with few details on what effects climate change could have on the spread of disease. Only during questioning did she describe some specific diseases that probably would be affected, again without elaborating.

Her testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had much less information on health risks than a much longer draft version Gerberding submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review in advance of her appearance.

"It was eviscerated," said a CDC official, familiar with both versions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process.

The official said that while it is customary for testimony to be changed in a White House review, these changes were particularly "heavy-handed," with the document cut from its original 14 pages to four. The document was six pages as presented to the Senate committee.

The OMB had no comment on Gerberding's testimony.

"We generally don't speculate and comment on anything until it is the final product," said OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan. He added that OMB reviews take into consideration "whether they . . . line up well with the national priorities of the administration."

The CDC is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and its congressional testimony, as is usual with all agencies, is routinely reviewed by OMB.

But Gerberding, who could not be reached late yesterday for comment, was said to have been surprised by the extensive changes.

Copies of the original testimony already had been sent to a number of associated health groups representing state, county, and city health agencies that the CDC routinely coordinates with, a CDC official said.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner sought to play down the White House changes. He called Gerberding's appearance before the Senate panel "very productive."

"What needed to be said as far we're concerned was said," said Skinner in a telephone interview from Atlanta.

"She certainly communicated with the committee everything she felt was critical to help them appreciate and understand all the issues surrounding climate change and its potential impact on public health."

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