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Texas accused of censoring global warming facts in science report

October 20, 2011 | 12:17 pm

AndersonTwo Texas lawmakers have accused the state's environmental agency of censoring information about global warming in a state-commissioned report about Galveston Bay.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, who has questioned the validity of man-made global warming during recent presidential debates and appearances. Officials defended their actions, saying they did not censor mentions of global warming and that the information was not relevant to the focus of the report.

The State of the Bay report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality came under fire after Rice University professor John Anderson gave a copy of an article he had contributed to the report to the Houston Chronicle last week. Anderson, pictured above, accused the state agency of censorship because it removed references to global warming.

Democratic state Sens. Rodney Ellis of Houston and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio wrote to Perry appointee Bryan Shaw, chairman of the commission, questioning the agency's treatment of the report.

"I am extremely uncomfortable with your agency deleting scientific facts without a valid explanation or alternative," Ellis wrote in his letter.

Commission spokesman Andy Saenz released a statement Thursday saying the commission was "shocked" that Anderson had leaked the article, a breach of his contract it called "premature and unprofessional," and denied censoring what he had written.

"We are paying for this report and the assertions and statements will be attributable" to the commission, the statement said. "Why should we include questionable information we don't agree with?" 

Anderson, who teaches oceanography, provided a copy of the report and the commission's changes, to The Times. He said it was based in part on previously published and peer-reviewed studies, intended as an "outreach effort" easily accessible and understood by the public.

"I don’t think these are contentious points — that’s the sad part," he said. "This is information that needs to be out there for the general public, for schoolteachers when they teach their kids. This is really a serious thing in my opinion, when the state blocks the publication of a paper intended for the non-science community."

Anderson said he was particularly troubled that state officials removed sections linking sea level rise to global warming.

"Sea level rise is hard to deny," he said. "You can debate climate warming, but sea level is going up, it’s measured globally, with satellites. For them to be so bold as to remove it — they actually omitted whole sentences that mentioned sea level rise."

Anderson said he has received support from fellow scientists in Texas and beyond, and is drafting a position statement in response to the commission.

"I don’t think there’s any question that the vast majority if not the total scientists in the state of Texas who are actually involved in the research are not global change deniers," he said.

But Saenz told The Times that Anderson, whom the commission subcontracted with to write the report through the nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center, had no right to reveal the report and stage a public debate about global warming.

"Our intent is to give an accurate portrayal of the state of the bay," Saenz said. "You don’t have to get into the debate about whether man-made global warming contributes to that. Dr. Anderson can go publish his own report on his own dime -- that was outside the scope of what we asked him to do. We have the right to make sure it reflects our views.”

Saenz said the commission expected the report to focus more narrowly on issues such as “salinity, the drought, the effects on the ecosystem, is enough water getting to the bay, not to get involved in a global debate.” He said they do not deny sea level rise, but do have a different take on global warming than Anderson.

“It’s no secret that our state and our governor and our agency has taken positions different than our professors," he said. "But that debate does not belong in this report.”

Saenz said officials are "moving forward" with publishing the report, although no date has been set for its release and it is unclear whether they will include Anderson's article or remove his name. Saenz said the commission was also investigating whether Anderson breached his $3,000 subcontract by revealing his portion of the report prematurely.

Jim Lester, vice president of the Houston Advanced Research Center, backed up Anderson.

“We were careful in producing the report not to address human contributions to climate change, but we felt we had to address scientific observations about changes in temperature, changes in species and sea level rise,” Lester said. “This was a document funded by public funds that had been looked at by a large number of stakeholders who work with us in the Galveston Bay estuary program. It’s not like it was some kind of secret document."

ALSO:

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Group launches online environmental accident map

Climate change could shrink chocolate production: report

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: Rice University oceanography professor John Anderson has accused a Texas state environmental commission of censoring portions of an article he was hired to write about Galveston Bay to remove references to global warming. Credit: Rice University.

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