A senior White House official involved in a damaging controversy over his deleting of dire climate change warnings from US government reports has abruptly resigned, but the White House denies his departure had anything to do with the flap.
Philip Cooney, chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stepped down Friday without disclosing his future employment plans, announced presidential spokeswoman Erin Healy.
"He has accumulated many weeks on leave, and so he decided to resign and take the summer off to spend some time with his family," Healy told AFP.
She added the resignation was "completely unrelated" to the release of documents this past week that show Cooney had given a thorough editing to US government documents on global warming -- in what appeared to be an effort to make them look less dramatic.
"Mr. Cooney has been long considering options following four years of service in the administration," the spokeswoman said.
The disclosure, however, turned into a diplomatic embarrassment for the White House because it came hours after President George W. Bush assured visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair that his administration was viewing global warming as a "serious long-term" problem that it was determined to solve.
But just as Blair was telling reporters about "a common commitment and desire to tackle the challenges of climate change," the US civic organization Government Accountability Project made public documents showing the White House trying to gloss over the problem's severity.
The papers included a draft of a 2002 report by the US Climate Change Science Program that had been sent to Cooney for review and still contained his edits and remarks in the margins.
It showed the White House official taking out a whole paragraph warning about higher temperatures resulting in melting glaciers and snow peaks in polar regions and having "serious impacts" particularly on Native American tribes that rely on fishing and hunting for their livelihood.
In a remark on the margins, Cooney, who has no scientific background, appeared to upbraid scientists for "straying from research strategy into speculative findings."
The documents also contained a memorandum from Rick Piltz, a former senior official with the climate change program, who resigned last March because, as he put it, he no longer wanted "to sacrifice the ability to speak freely."
Piltz wrote he believed the White House and the State Department had acted in concert "to impede forthright communication of the state of climate science" and have tried to "undermine the credibility and integrity of the program."
Answering a barrage of questions, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan denied the administration was trying to politicize science.
"This is an interagency review process, where everybody who is involved in these issues should have input into these reports," he said of the editing. "And that's all this is."
But veteran Democratic lawmakers -- Representative Henry Waxman and Senator John Kerry -- have asked the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to formally probe the matter.
They called the revelations "the latest in a pattern of interference with climate science by the Bush Administration."
In 2001, the Bush administration decided to abandon the Kyoto treaty, which commits industrialized nations to cutting greehouse gas emissions that most scientists say contribute to global warming.
© Copyright 2005 AFP