By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - With U.S. policy at the center of debate at a Bali climate change meeting, Democrats in Congress said on Monday that the White House manipulated science for years to cast doubt on reality of global warming.
"The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming," the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said.
Congressional Republicans released their own report, calling the accusations "a partisan diatribe," while White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Democrats’ charges were rehashed and untrue, and timed to coincide with the Bali conference.
James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, denied the accusations: "Claims that this administration interfered with scientists and with the science are false."
The Democrats reported that the council exerted "unusual control over what federal scientists could say publicly about climate change, and that it was standard practice for the council to decide whether or not U.S. scientists could give interviews to the media.
This became more apparent after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, when the White House and the Commerce Department steered press queries away from government scientists who linked climate change and more intense hurricanes, the Democratic report said.
EDITING CLIMATE CHANGE REPORTS
"There was a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change by editing climate change reports," they wrote.
They said council staff edited the administration’s "Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program" to exaggerate scientific uncertainties or to diminish the importance of the human role in global warming.
The report’s release came on the same day that the United States urged participants in the Bali meeting to drop a 2020 target for deep cuts in greenhouse gases by rich nations from guidelines for a new pact to slow global warming beyond 2012.
Harlan Watson, the chief U.S. climate negotiator, said the tough targets included in a draft document in Bali would be "prejudging what the outcome should be."
The draft text suggested that rich countries like the United States should aim to cut emissions of climate-warming gases by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Watson’s statement was consistent with the Bush administration’s long-term stance on climate change.
While acknowledging the reality of global warming, the White House has opposed specific targets to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide — spewed by coal-fired power plants and petroleum-fueled vehicles — arguing that this would hurt the U.S. economy.
Washington has also stressed that any successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, must include all countries with high greenhouse emissions, including fast-growing China and India, which were exempt from the Kyoto requirements.
The United States is now the only major developed country outside the Kyoto Protocol. (Editing by David Wiessler)