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    Cheney Sought to Alter Climate Discussion

  • White House Rift
    With EPA Escalates
    Over Warming

    July 9, 2008; Page A3

    WASHINGTON -- A disclosure Tuesday that Vice President Dick Cheney's office sought to alter a federal official's prepared testimony about the health consequences of global warming intensified an increasingly open conflict between the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House over how to respond to climate change.

    [Dick Cheney]

    The latest in a series of disclosures about internal disputes within the Bush administration came as President George W. Bush was in Japan with other leaders of the Group of Eight nations to forge an agreement on combating climate change. (Please see article on page A8.) But back home, Mr. Bush's critics contend that his aides are working to ensure that any actions his administration takes in response to climate change will have a limited impact.

    The disclosure about Vice President Cheney's role came from Jason Burnett, who until last month was the EPA's associate deputy administrator. Mr. Burnett, whose duties included advising EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on a range of issues involving climate change, is a supporter of the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) and has contributed extensively to the campaigns of other Democrats -- giving more than $100,000 since 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based government watchdog.

    Congressional Democrats have been prodding the Bush administration to take action on limiting emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming, even as Congress itself has failed to pass proposals to cap such emissions. In the meantime, some Democrats in Congress have been extracting emails and other internal documents to build a case that the White House has squelched efforts by EPA officials to put forward meaningful proposals for greenhouse-gas controls.

    In a letter dated July 6 in response to questions from the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), Mr. Burnett said Mr. Cheney's office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality "were seeking deletions" last fall to congressional testimony about climate change prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mr. Burnett said the latter office asked him "to work with CDC" to remove from the testimony "any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change."

    The issue of whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare is significant because a finding by the EPA that they do would require the agency to regulate them under the terms of the federal Clean Air Act, spurring new rules across a range of industries.

    Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and officials in more than a dozen states have sought to prod the EPA to reach a decision on the matter, following a Supreme Court ruling last year that greenhouse gases are pollutants and can be regulated under the EPA's existing authority. But the Bush administration has resisted, arguing that economy-wide regulations of such emissions could cripple the U.S. economy.

    Mr. Burnett said he declined to go along with the White House request to push for deletions to the CDC testimony, because the CDC's draft testimony -- which included examples of how climate change is likely to have "a significant impact" on public health -- was "fundamentally accurate."

    The line -- and many others -- were eventually eliminated from the testimony prepared last October for CDC Director Julie Gerberding, based on draft copies of the testimony that were leaked last fall and posted online by groups that favor regulation of greenhouse gases. Dr. Gerberding did testify, however, that climate change "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans."

    Representatives for Mr. Cheney and the White House declined to comment Tuesday on Mr. Burnett's assertions. A spokesman for Dr. Gerberding said "any edits that were made to the written testimony were made during the routine editing process," and that Dr. Gerberding "spoke openly and freely without constraint" in her Senate testimony last fall.

    In his letter, Mr. Burnett notes that at the time of Dr. Gerberding's testimony "there was extensive debate" over how the EPA should respond to the Supreme Court's ruling. Mr. Burnett says the White House Council on Environmental Quality suggested to him that he could best serve the EPA "if I would convince CDC to delete particular sections of their testimony."

    In an interview, he declined to elaborate on the assertions in his letter, but said he left the EPA because "I thought I'd done as much constructive work as could be done under this administration" in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

    Administration officials said in March that before declaring greenhouse gases endanger health or welfare, the government should first seek public comment. The EPA has yet to do so, however, largely because of a dispute between EPA officials and a White House office that reviews proposed regulations over how to frame the issue, people familiar with the matter said.

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