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White House Altered Climate Change Testimony

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; 4:44 PM

Documents obtained by The Washington Post show that White House officials heavily edited testimony on global warming delivered to Congress yesterday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, downplaying the specific health problems that could arise.

Bush administration officials cut CDC director Julie L. Gerberding's testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on "climate change and public health" from 12 pages to six, removing sections that detailed how global warming would affect Americans and suggested that the government has yet to fully respond to the potential risk posed by climate change.

In one deleted section, Gerberding planned to say that many organizations are working to address climate change but that, "despite this extensive activity, the public health effects of climate change remain largely unaddressed. CDC considers climate change a serious public concern."

In another deleted part of her original testimony, the CDC director predicted that areas in the northern United States "will likely bear the brunt of increases in ground-level ozone and associated airborne pollutants. Populations in mid-western and northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat-related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity and duration."

The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, first reported that Gerberding's testimony had been edited.

Michael McCally , executive director of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the editing by the Office of Management and Budget undermined the public's ability to recognize the health risks associated with climate change.

"It appears the White House has denied a congressional committee's access to scientific information about health and global warming," McCally said in a statement. "This misuse of science and abuse of the legislative process is deplorable."

Gerberding, however, said that the editing did not alter the underlying message of her testimony. In an e-mail to The Post last night, she wrote: "For five years I have had complete freedom to speak the truth to Congress on scientific issues and I will continue to do so.

"And my oral testimony is always extemporaneous -- prepared by me personally -- and is not read from the written. I place less emphasis on the written testimony and certainly don't track its editing as it moves through very cumbersome inter-agency and intra-agency clearance processes."

The CDC and OMB did not return calls seeking comment this morning. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters today "it's not unusual" for OMB to edit congressional testimony as part of its regular "interagency review."

"A number of the agencies had some concerns with the draft, and I know that our scientists at the Office of Science and Technology Policy looked at the draft and wanted to make sure that it was taking advantage of the science that had been provided in the International Panel on Climate Change -- that was the IPCC report that came out last spring that we largely funded and that we embraced in its conclusions," Perino said.

"It was not watered down in terms of its science. It wasn't watered down in terms of the concerns that climate change raises for public health."

In a statement last night, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee's chairman, questioned why the administration would edit testimony by "one of the country's leading voices on public health."

"The White House continues to say that science should guide us on global warming legislation," Boxer said.

Gerberding's original testimony addressed not only the geographical disparities inherent in climate change's impact, but also the different health consequences for different racial and socioeconomic groups that accompany global warming.

"In addition, people of lower socioeconomic status are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events," the director said in another section cut by OMB. "Members of racial and ethnic minority groups suffer particularly from air pollution as well as inadequate health care access, while athletes and those who work outdoors are more at risk from air pollution, heat and certain infectious diseases."

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