For the first time in six years, the annual federal report on air pollution
trends has no section on global warming, though President Bush has said that slowing
the growth of emissions linked to warming is a priority for his administration.
The decision to delete the chapter on climate change was made by top officials
at the Environmental Protection Agency with White House approval, White House
House censors may have made global warming disappear from this report, but that
won't make it disappear as a serious threat to our environment.
"Some people at pretty high levels in my organization were saying, `Take it
out,' " said an E.P.A. official outside Washington who helped prepare the report.
Others at the agency confirmed his account.
Agency officials say the decision was made for two reasons: the agency has
issued two other reports on climate this year, and the annual report is mainly
meant to track pollutants that directly threaten people or ecosystems — substances
like lead, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain.
The report, released early this month, is an overview intended for the public
that draws on more detailed E.P.A. data on air pollution trends. Most emissions
have been sharply reduced in the last decade, but not carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping
gas that most scientists say is the main contributor to global warming. Most carbon
dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels.
Industry lobbyists are praising the decision. Coal, oil and car companies
say carbon dioxide, which occurs naturally, should not be labeled a pollutant.
But environmental groups say the omission reflects the administration's close
ties with industry.
"White House censors may have made global warming disappear from this report,
but that won't make it disappear as a serious threat to our environment," said
Jeremy Symons, an authority on climate policy at the National Wildlife Federation.
Mr. Bush said last year that carbon dioxide appeared to be linked to rising
temperatures, and he has since said that voluntary measures should be taken to
slow emissions but that the evidence is not yet clear enough to require reductions.
The new report, "Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2001 Status and
Trends," is online, with those from previous years, at: epa.gov/airtrends/reports.html.
Published since the 1970's, the reports have focused on air pollution restricted
under the Clean Air Act as directly harming human health or ecosystems. But starting
in 1996, the report also included sections on emissions that affect the global
atmosphere, including chemicals that damage the ozone layer and carbon dioxide
and other greenhouse gases.
The latest report has a section on the ozone-depleting chemicals, which are
rapidly being reduced under the 15-year-old Montreal Protocol. But there is no
section on climate change.
Global warming is mentioned twice: once in a note in fine print at the bottom
of the table of contents, listing agency Web sites with climate data, and once
in a paragraph that refers, apparently by mistake, to the omitted section on climate.
"Although the primary focus of this report is on national air pollution,"
the paragraph says, "global air pollution issues such as destruction of the stratospheric
ozone layer and the effect of global warming on the earth's climate are major
concerns and are also discussed."
Environmental and conservative groups have accused the administration of sowing
confusion on the climate issue.
In late May, the White House approved a climate report that was then submitted
by the State Department to the United Nations, though it contained far more dire
projections of harm from global warming than Mr. Bush had publicly accepted. The
president quickly distanced himself from the report, saying it was "put out by
the bureaucracy." New copies of the report have been changed to emphasize scientific
uncertainty about the effects of global warming. Some officials at the E.P.A.
said the handling of that State Department report heightened concern about climate
documents, prompting the changes in the new report.
"There's a complete paranoia about anything on climate, and everything has
to be reviewed widely," an agency official said.
Other officials said the report was changed to avoid redundancy with earlier
documents and to draw a line between carbon dioxide and pollutants that fall under
air quality rules.
The annual report focuses on pollutants "that pose a local and regional threat
to human health and the environment," said Joe Martyak, a spokesman for the agency.
"The whole issue of climate change doesn't fall under that category."
The change in the document was welcomed by Myron Ebell, an authority on climate
policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
"After such a long string of disasters on climate, this is the first glimmer
of good news," he said. "If they have now gotten clear with the E.P.A. that they're
not in the business of regulating CO2, that's a hopeful sign."
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company