July 9, 2008 in Nation/World

Cheney’s office accused of altering testimony

Richard Simon Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney’s office worked to alter sworn congressional testimony provided by a federal official in order to play down the threat of global warming and head off regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, a former government official said in a new accusation Tuesday.

Jason K. Burnett, a former Environmental Protection Agency official, cited the behind-the-scenes efforts by unnamed officials in Cheney’s office in a letter to congressional investigators regarding testimony in January by his former boss, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

Burnett appeared at a news conference Tuesday with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who said his statements could boost efforts by California and other states to implement their own vehicle emission standards over White House opposition. Boxer plans to call Burnett to testify later this month before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which she chairs.

His charges probably will give Bush administration critics new ammunition in their efforts to portray executive branch actions on the environment as driven by politics, rather than science.

Administration pressure also was cited in changes to testimony by the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last October and in an attempt to prevent the EPA from taking a step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions in December.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the EPA was required to evaluate whether greenhouse gas emissions pose a risk, and if so, implement regulations on polluters. President Bush has opposed mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, oil refineries and other polluters, contending such steps would drive up energy costs and hurt the economy.

But White House efforts to edit testimony were “clearly misconduct, in terms of interfering with scientific information,” said Bettina Poirier, staff director for the environment committee.

She said she was still examining whether those actions violate law.

For Cheney, the new accusation, coming as he winds down his time in Washington, is similar to criticism he faced early in his vice presidency over private meetings he held to shape national energy policy. Then, as now, the White House has refused to turn over documents sought by congressional investigators.

Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride responded: “We won’t discuss internal deliberations.”

Burnett resigned as EPA’s associate deputy administrator last month. He also has contributed $4,600 to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign.

EPA Administrator Johnson, in testimony before Boxer’s committee in January, planned to tell senators that “greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment.”

Burnett said in a letter to Boxer that “an official in the office of the vice president called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed.”

He said he didn’t make the change. Johnson delivered the testimony as planned.

In one of the previous instances, administration officials extensively edited testimony last October by Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, removing six pages she planned to deliver.

Boxer demanded that, in light of Burnett’s allegations, 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 in a document that has never been made public.

“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.

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