“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” (Emphasis added) George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)

Perhaps the most egregious suppression of Science occurs when regulators and policymakers willfully silence, distort or ignore findings in fields such as Environmental Science and Health Science effectively replacing the will of the people with the political, financial or ideological interests of another group.

Some of the most flagrant censorship of Science in United States history occurred during the administration of George W. Bush. Substantial evidence has been amassed showing that scientific integrity was frequently compromised where it served this administration’s political interests. We are likely to feel the effects of these deceptions for some time. While the Obama administration has taken significant steps to end the abuses of the Bush era, allegations of government suppression of Environmental Science have not ceased.

 

Scientific integrity under the Obama administration

Upon taking office, President Obama took significant steps to restore the integrity of Science during his administration, yet allegations of suppression of Environmental Science still occur.

Scientists Report a Continued Culture of Politics Trumping Science (July 10, 2010)
An LA Times report details the dissapointment expressed by some government scientists with a lack of improvement in scientific integrity since President Obama took office and called for new rules to protect scientific integrity.  Such new rules have yet to be issued, and lower level government scientists still report political pressure to alter their results as well as a lack of protection for whistleblowers.  Examples of suppression reported by the LA Times include:

-Interference with efforts to measure damage to the Everglades resulting from development projects.

-Pressure to underreport the effects of dams on struggling salmon populations in the North West.

-Pressure to ignore the effects of overgrazing on federal land in some Western states.

-In Alaska, some oil and gas exploration projects continue to move forward despite evidence of environmental harm which was discovered to have been ignored under the Bush Administration.

-The decision to fight the gulf oil spill with huge quantities of potentially toxic chemical dispersants despite advice to examine the dangers more thoroughly.

-Obstacles to speaking out publicly reported by scientists in key agencies.        

Coal Ash regulation under the Obama Administration (2010)
Given the history of industry being allowed to edit documents related to coal ash regulation during the Bush administration (below) , the Obama administration’s handling of this issue was seen by some as a first test of their commitment to restoring the integrity of the EPA. In October 2009, the EPA sent a proposal to the White House that would have labeled coal ash as ‘hazardous waste,’ asserting that "maintaining a [nonhazardous] approach would not be protective of human[s] and the environment." But in May 2010, the EPA backed off somewhat, producing a draft proposal which presented a choice between treating coal ash as a hazardous waste and treating it as low-risk solid waste. Critics of this decision say that the EPA was pressured to present this dual draft by industry lobbyists and economists at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, an office which played a role in some of the abuses during the Bush administration.

In April 2009, the EPA released definitive findings that Carbon Dioxide and 5 other gasses associated with global warming pose significant threats to public health and welfare. Many allegations of suppression since Obama took office have been raised by critics of the scientific consensus on global warming:

Senate rejects proposal to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses (2010)
In June, 2010 the Senate voted against a resolution introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would have blocked the EPA from regulating global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act. The resolution sought to rescind the EPA's finding that global warming emissions endanger public health.

NASA drags feet on complying with FOIA request (2010)
In 2007 and 2008, the Competitive Enterprise Institute filed FOIA requests with NASA to release information pertaining to internal documents on their climate data. NASA changed its climate data twice in the past few years and CEI seeks to examine the discussions that preceded the change. In May 2010, CEI initiated a lawsuit against NASA because the agency had still not fully complied with the FOIA request. This is just another example of the fight over information going on in the global warming arena. 

Allegations of silencing dissent at the EPA (2009)
In June 2009, email messages surfaced from an EPA analyst and economist which purported to show the suppression of his contrarian views by the agency. Alan Carlin, who has been working at the EPA since the Nixon administration, wrote a report detailing his view that global warming was “more religion than science” and urging the EPA to halt its planned regulation of carbon dioxide. His superiors dismissed his comments and refused to forward his report to the office preparing a final report on greenhouse gas emissions that would be used as the basis for new regulations.

However, as the New York Times revealed, the story is more complicated than simple suppression of critical commentary. It appears that Carlin’s comments were not taken into full consideration for a number of other reasons, including that his views have been repeatedly challenged by scientists both in and out of the EPA, he is an economist not an atmospheric scientist, he has never been assigned to work on climate change, and his report was full of “shoddy scholarship,” according to the NY Times. Whatever the real reason, it’s important to be vigilant to assure that our government officials are being objective in their analysis of scientific data and research. Suppression or deliberate misrepresentation of science only undermines political debate and the free exchange of ideas.

Scienctific integrity under the George W. Bush Administration

MMS distorted environmental assessment of offshore drilling in Alaska (2010)
In March 2010, just days before the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that during the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency responsible for regulating the oil industry, had altered the work of environmental scientists or pressured them to produce environmental impact reports that would favor offshore drilling in Alaska.

According to the report, the Alaskan regional MMS also failed to follow its own information sharing policy, which requires “that all reports submitted by industry—including proprietary information—should be shared within one working day with MMS staff involved in environmental analyses.” In violation of this policy, the MMS was sharing information with its environmental analysts only on a need-to-know basis and required signed confidentiality agreements to document the sharing of such information. This procedure sometimes prevented environmental analysts from receiving the reports they were charged with assessing and hindered their ability to perform sound environmental analyses.

After the oil spill in the Gulf, New York Times interviews of past and present employees of the MMS revealed that the MMS routinely ignored the warnings of experts about the environmental impact of drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska.

For information about the Obama administration’s restructuring of the agency in response to the exposure of corruption within the MMS, click here and here. For criticism of the restructuring, click here.

Coal ash industry allowed to edit reports on regulation of coal waste (2010)
In January 2010, the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a report revealing that under the Bush administration, the coal ash industry was allowed to edit official EPA reports on the effects of coal waste. PEER was able to obtain EPA documents through a Freedom of Information Request. The documents revealed that the coal industry had access to EPA publications and was successful in influencing their content. These publications often downplayed or failed to mention the negative effects of coal ash on both people and the environment, while highlighting the potential benefits. This type of suppression and misinformation is especially harmful to public discourse because it purportedly comes from an objective government source. The EPA is charged with acting as watchdog for American citizens. Instead of fulfilling this obligation they were improperly influenced and produced inaccurate information, which in turn possibly manipulated public debate about coal ash and other harmful substances.

For other examples of the EPA’s failure to disclose, visit the Right-To-Know Network.

See how the Obama administration has approached regulation of coal ash (above).

CREW report on Bush era distortions of global warming Science (2009)
In 2009, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issued a report detailing how officials in the Bush White House had deliberately distorted scientific evidence of global warming. The report is based on documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The actions of these officials while within the administration are particularly troubling given the possibility that they repressed or misrepresented scientific reporting around the issue of global warming. One such official was the chairperson of CEQ – who was responsible for advising the White House on environmental policy. Several other sources have reported interference and distortion of climate change reports by CEQ staff members.

See:

'Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming.'
'Stifling scientists' discussions of the link between increased hurricane intensity and global warming'.
White House officials censored a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report on possible health consequences of climate change.

CREW also found that since leaving the White House, these Bush officials have begun working as lobbyists or advisors for the oil, gas, and mining industries. These individuals continue to influence the debate on global warming. This interference is a particularly disturbing form of censorship because it not only affects the public discourse, but undermines the public’s faith in both science and politics.

See also: Ex-EPA Official Says White House Pulled Rank:  Administration Ordered Calif. Emissions Plan Quashed

White House refuses to accept an EPA report on greenhouse gasses W.S. (2008)
In the 2007 case Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court rejected the White House’s position that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act, and further ruled that if the EPA determined that greenhouse gasses posed a danger to public health or welfare then it must regulate them. On December 5, 2007 the EPA emailed their draft response to the Court’s mandate to the White House. In it they found that greenhouse gasses did pose a danger to public health and welfare. Instead of addressing the EPA’s findings, the White House refused to accept the report, pressuring officials at the EPA to rescind it or at least eliminate large sections. These tactics delayed the release of any actual EPA findings to such an extent that no definitive EPA response to the Supreme Court’s instruction was ever released during the Bush Administration.