WASHINGTON — The White House directed a major rewrite of an assessment of climate change, removing references to health and environmental risks posed by rising global temperatures, according to internal draft documents made public yesterday.
Several Senate Democrats, including some presidential candidates, accused the White House of "doctoring" the Environmental Protection Agency report to suit President Bush's skeptical views on global warming.
The report on the state of the environment has been an agency priority. It is to be released next week before agency chief Christie Whitman departs June 27.
According to EPA officials and internal documents obtained yesterday, most of the original section on climate change was scrapped after the White House directed significant changes and deletions that emphasized uncertainties surrounding the climate-change debate.
Changes demanded by the White House were so extensive that the climate section "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change," according to an April 29 EPA staff memo that characterized the revised draft as an embarrassment.
After months of negotiations with the White House, senior EPA officials decided to remove most of the climate-related language. That would allow publication of the rest of the report — on environmental concerns from air pollution to the state of drinking-water supplies — to go forward.
Copies of the draft documents and the EPA memo were made public by the National Wildlife Federation, which obtained it through a former EPA employee. The changes initially were reported yesterday in The New York Times.
EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the agency "didn't want to hold up the rest of the report" because of the disagreement over the climate language and because no clear "consensus on the science and conclusions" on global warming remains.
Whitman told The New York Times she was "perfectly comfortable" with the edited version.
James Connaughton, chairman of White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the editing amounted largely to removing redundancies or inaccuracies that did not reflect what other reports had said. He said it was wrong to say "that somehow we're trying to remove information about climate. In the last year alone we've produced hundreds of pages on this very subject."
According to the EPA papers, the White House deleted from a summary under the heading of "global issues" the sentence, "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment."
Many scientific reports have raised those concerns.
The edited version inserted that climate change "may have potentially profound consequences" but otherwise emphasized great uncertainties.
The revised draft also:
• Removed a reference — and a graphic — to a 1999 study showing global temperatures had risen sharply in the past decade compared with the previous 1,000 years. It instead cites a study, partly sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, that disputed those findings. Connaughton said the second study was reputable and the most recent on the subject.
• Deleted a National Research Council finding that studies have suggested that recent warming was unusual and likely due to human activities, although the same 2001 NRC report had been commissioned by the White House.
Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida, both running for president, urged Bush to take action against "those responsible for doctoring this report." They were joined by Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., the ranking minority member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, in requesting copies of the various report drafts.
"It brings into question the ability and authority of the EPA ... to publish unbiased scientific reports," the senators said.
Mark VanPutten, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said the matter "provides disturbing evidence of the administration's readiness to reject or spin scientific findings on crucial environmental issues that do not suit the White House's political agenda."
If the changes are accepted, the EPA staff memo said, the agency "will take severe criticism from the science and environmental communities for poorly representing the science" of climate change.