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Congress Begins Tackling Climate Issues

House panel to hear science interference case; Lawmakers to outline global warming proposals

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2007
By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer
(AP) A House panel will hear new allegations of political pressure on government climate scientists at a hearing Tuesday, while two presidential hopefuls will outline their proposals on global warming at a Senate hearing.

The Democratic-controlled Congress was focusing on climate change this week as an international panel of scientists gathers in Paris to release a report that is expected to reinforce concerns over so-called greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the earth.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., was scheduled to hear testimony Tuesday from several current and former government climate officials who have complained of political pressure by the Bush administration to play down the seriousness of the climate issue.

Among the witnesses called by Waxman is Rick Piltz, who resigned in 2005 from the government's office that coordinates climate programs, alleging that a political appointee was severely editing government reports on climate to tone them down.

That official, Philip Cooney, later resigned as chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality to go to work for Exxon Mobil Corp.

The hearing is expected to go beyond the Cooney incident and expand into allegations of broader interference.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a private advocacy group, and the Government Accountability Project, or GAP, a legal-assistant group that represents whistle-blowers, said Monday they will present "new evidence of suppression and manipulation of climate science."

The groups said their findings cover seven federal agencies and include information about "firsthand experiences" by government climate scientists and workers.

GAP in 2005 made public internal documents related to the Cooney incident and represented Piltz as a whistle-blower.

Waxman has asked for complete copies of 39 documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, or CEQ, and the Environmental Protection Agency related to climate programs including scientific research.

Included were a request to CEQ Chairman James Connaugton for papers on any efforts by CEQ "to manage or influence statements made by government scientists or experts to representatives of media regarding climate change."

Allegations of muzzling climate scientists also have been at the center of a controversy involving James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the country's top experts on climate change. Hansen has accused the Bush administration of trying to prevent him from speaking publicly about global warming.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is opening her Environment Committee to all senators wishing to discuss their views or legislation on global warming.

Among those to address the meeting Tuesday will be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., followed by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., both presidential contenders and sponsors of legislation that would require sharp, mandatory reductions in heat-trapping emissions, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

There already have been a range of climate bills introduced in the Senate. Boxer has offered the most aggressive bill, one that is touted as reducing emissions by 80 percent by mid-century.

The Obama-McCain bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would cut emissions by two-thirds by 2050. Another bill, offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would halt the growth of carbon emissions by 2030 and then is expected to lead to reductions.

All three would require mandatory caps on greenhouse gas releases from power plants, cars and other sources. They also would have various forms of an emissions trading system to reduce the economic cost.

President Bush said in his State of the Union address that climate change needs to be addressed, but he has opposed any mandatory emission caps, arguing that industry through development of new technologies can deal with the issue.

©MMVII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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