Ex-administrator says official from vice president's office edited out six pages.
Members of Vice President's Dick Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony by a top federal official on the health threats posed by global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency official said today.
In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett said an official from Cheney's office edited out six pages from the testimony of Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last October.
Several media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported at the time that Gerberding had planned to say that "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," among other passages.
Boxer said the administration feared that Gerberding's testimony would force it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. The White House has opposed mandatory limits and insisted that voluntary measures and increased research are the best way to address the problem.
"The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony," Burnett, a 31-year old Stanford-trained economist and a Democrat, wrote in response to an inquiry from Boxer's committee. "CEQ requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change."
Burnett, a member of the wealthy Packard family, has given more than $100,000 to Democratic campaigns in recent years, including $3,600 to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (Ill.). He did not identify who in the vice president's office called him.
"I'm not interested in pointing fingers at any individual," he said at a press conference with Boxer this morning, adding he was focused on seeing how the federal government will address climate change in response to last year's Supreme Court decision requiring EPA to deal with the issue of rising carbon dioxide emissions. "I'm interested in helping inform the next administration to help make those decisions, while recognizing Congress could act to pass a better law."
Boxer demanded that, in light of Burnett's allegations, EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson turn over "every document related to the agency's finding that global warming poses a danger to the public" - a determination the EPA reached late last year - and issue a rule finding that greenhouse gases endanger public welfare. The White House has refused to open the email making that finding, which Burnett sent over on Dec. 5, thereby leaving the recommendation in limbo.
"I'm calling on Mr. Johnson to act now, and if he doesn't have the courage or the strength or determination to act, he should resign," Boxer said.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride declined to comment in detail on Burnett's allegations, saying, "We don't comment on internal deliberations."
However White House spokesman Tony Fratto noted that White House officials in past administrations have vetted congressional testimony from agency officials.
"There's absolutely nothing unusual here in terms of the inter-agency review process, whether it's testimony, rules or anything else," Fratto said in an interview. "The process exists so that other offices and departments have the opportunity to comment and offer their views. There's nothing unusual about that, there's nothing nefarious about that, and there's nothing different here from previous administrations."
Frank O'Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the latest revelations confirm that the vice president has been steering the nation's environmental policy during President Bush's tenure.
"For years we've suspected that Cheney was the puppeteer for administration policy on global warming," O'Donnell said. "This kiss-and-tell account appears to confirm the worst."