October 24, 2007 / 7:04 PM / 10 years ago

US agency denies interference in climate testimony

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The White House watered down testimony to Congress about climate change by the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before she delivered it, an activist group said on Wednesday, but the agency and White House both denied it.

The anti-nuclear group Physicians for Social Responsibility said White House officials had forced CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding to remove specific references about the effects of climate change from Tuesday’s testimony to a Senate committee.

The group, which also testified before the committee, distributed what it said were copies of Gerberding’s testimony before and after it was edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, and said significant changes were made.

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

The White House and CDC denied that serious changes were made to Gerberding’s testimony to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

"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 (Intergovernmental) Panel on Climate Change," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The physicians group shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize as part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Some groups have accused the administration of President George W. Bush of downplaying the global climate change threat, and of interfering with scientific and medical decisions. The White House has come to agree with the majority of climate experts who say that global warming is under way and that human activity has contributed to it.


CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said it is not unusual for OMB to review and edit official testimony.

"The bottom line is Dr. Gerberding said what she felt needed to be said without constraint," Skinner said in a telephone interview.

In her testimony to the committee, Gerberding said CDC was geared up to monitor changes in disease and health caused by global warming and climate change.

Physicians for Social Responsibility released a far more specific version that said climate change would lead to more severe weather patterns.

It reads: "In the United States, climate change is likely to have a significant impact on health, through links with the following outcomes:

-- Direct effects of heat,

-- Health effects related to extreme weather events,

-- Air pollution-related health effects,

-- Allergic diseases,

-- Water- and food-borne infectious diseases,

-- Vector-borne and zoonotic diseases,

-- Food and water scarcity, at least for some populations,

-- Mental health problems, and

-- Long-term impacts of chronic diseases and other health effects."

"Most notably, staff at the Office of Management and Budget removed the notation that ‘CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern,'" said the physicians group.

(With additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria)

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