Legislators Call for Investigation Into Reported NPS Science Censorship

April 10, 2018, 8:13 AM HST (Updated April 10, 2018, 8:21 AM)
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A new report demonstrating censorship of climate change science follows U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s claim that “there was no incident—no incident, at all, that I know of, that we ever changed a comma on a document itself.”

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and four of her colleagues called on U.S. Department of Interior Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall to conduct an investigation into potential alterations to a scientific report titled “Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Projections for the National Park Service” by Department of the Interior employees that removed references to human-caused climate change.

“During a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 13th, Secretary Zinke defended his department’s respect for scientific integrity and challenged Senators and the public to find evidence that his department was editing so much as a comma in scientific reports for political purposes,” the Senators wrote. “Subsequent media reports indicate that National Park Service documents relating to the risk of sea level rise and storm surge on coastal national park sites are being edited for any mention of anthropogenic climate change. If true, this situation casts doubt on the accuracy of the secretary’s comments, and raises serious concerns with respect to how the department is—or is not—applying its scientific integrity policies to publicly released scientific reports.”

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also signed the letter.

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Last month, during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Department of the Interior’s budget, Sen. Hirono questioned Secretary Zinke about the department’s censorship of the words “climate change” from documents relating to a United States Geological Survey report on the impacts of sea level rise on coastal flooding that was released last year. Secretary Zinke denied changing report language, and said, “there was no incident— no incident, at all, that I know of, that we ever changed a comma on a document itself.”

Last week an article by Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, suggested that Department of the Interior employees have been internally editing out any mentions of anthropogenic climate change from a past-due National Park Service scientific report. If there is evidence that these activities are occurring at the Department of the Interior, then it runs counter to Secretary Zinke’s statement during the hearing and undermines the public trust.

The letter to Deputy Inspector General Kendall requests that the investigation include any instances when Department of the Interior employees who are not subject matter experts edited the report and identify under who’s direction those edits were made, the cause and impacts of the report’s delayed release, any other instances of interference with scientific reports or scientific communications by the Department, and any activities that violate the Department’s scientific integrity policy.

Full letter text:

Ms. Mary L. Kendall
Deputy Inspector General
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Ms. Kendall:

We are writing to request you investigate potential alterations to scientific reports produced by the department related to climate change including a pending report titled “Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Projections for the National Park Service” (the “NPS sea level report”). We have reason to believe that references to human-caused climate change were recently removed or edited by Department of the Interior employees in this report and are concerned about the alteration of others.

During a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 13th, Secretary Zinke defended his department’s respect for scientific integrity and challenged Senators and the public to find evidence that his department was editing so much as a comma in scientific reports for political purposes. Subsequent media reports indicate that National Park Service documents relating to the risk of sea level rise and storm surge on coastal national park sites are being edited for any mention of anthropogenic climate change.[1] If true, this situation casts doubt on the accuracy of the Secretary’s comments, and raises serious concerns with respect to how the Department is—or is not—applying its scientific integrity policies to publicly released scientific reports.

According to the National Park Service website, this particular report—the NPS sea level report—is a culmination of a three-year project beginning in 2013 and ending in 2016 and was done in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder. The purpose of the report was to provide the best available science to park planners and managers so that they can protect park resources and park visitors well into the future. The website notes that the report would be released to the public in late 2016, yet it is now April 2018 and the report has yet to be released. This delay is particularly concerning given National Park Service staff would certainly benefit from this information in order to properly plan for and manage some of America’s greatest treasures, as 92% of our coastal National Parks are threatened by sea level rise.

We request that your investigation looks into:

1. Any instances of Department of the Interior employees, who are not subject matter experts, editing the NPS sea level report and which employees directed such edits;

2. The cause and impacts of the delayed release of this report;

3. Any other instances of interference with scientific reports and scientific communications released or being prepared by the Department of the Interior, including but not limited to responses to media requests and public presentations by scientific staff at the Department; and

4. Any activities at the Department of the Interior, including those cited above, that may violate Department of the Interior Manual Part 305 Chapter 3: Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities.

Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

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