Letter to Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., USN ret., Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere U.S. Department of Commerce
October 26, 2006
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., USN ret.
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Vice Admiral Lautenbacher:
While the world=s scientists are still working to better understand the rate and scale of global warming, the overwhelming peer-reviewed science shows that it has already begun, as Arctic permafrost melts, mountain glaciers recede, coral reefs around the world continue to bleach, and more severe weather events affect a greater number of the world=s population.
To confront this preeminent generational challenge, Congress and the American public need the very best and objective science available. For this reason, we were distressed to read in a September 26th report by the journal Nature, that Commerce Department officials had blocked the release of a document authored by a seven-member panel charged with developing a consensus view of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers on the possible effects of global warming on the severity and frequency of hurricanes.
As we saw in 2005, more frequent and intense hurricanes over warming oceans can catastrophically impact our coastal communities, wreak havoc on our nation=s energy infrastructure, and disrupt the flow of international commerce. Hurricane Katrina alone cost the nation 1,577 lives, nearly $200 billion, and half a million jobs. To mitigate future Katrina-type disasters, it is of the utmost importance that we know whether there exists a link between global warming and more severe hurricanes. The Nature article suggests that NOAA=s own scientists believe that this may be the case. This finding is also supported by recent independent studies published in the journals Nature and Science by the well-respected climate scientists Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Peter J. Webster and Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The nation has the right to know the consensus view of our country=s leading federal scientists on this key issue. If there is no consensus view, would you please detail different opinions expressed among NOAA scientists or political appointees within the Commerce Department so that we as policy makers can be more well informed? We note that in your response to written questions following NOAA=s fiscal year 2007 budget hearing, received by the Senate Commerce Committee on June 23, 2006, you claimed NOAA had no official position on linkages between global warming and hurricane intensity, citing the need for Aimprovements to data sets, diagnostic studies for improved understanding, and systematic numerical experimentation studies [to] reveal the underlying causes for the recent active [hurricane] period and for how long this period will last.@ However, according to the Nature article, the consensus statement was finalized by the seven-member panel in mid-May, and was due to be released in June. Please tell us why your answer to Congressional inquiries did not mention the work of this panel.
This situation is particularly troubling in that it seems to reaffirm the Administration=s policy of suppressing and denying scientific opinions that challenge its political positions. Both NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) climate experts have alleged that political appointees have altered or tried to suppress federal scientific research related to global warming. In September 2002, the Administration removed a section on climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency=s annual air pollution report, even though the climate issue had been discussed in the report for the preceding five years. Press reports in June 2005 documented that the chief of staff to the White House Council on Environmental Quality repeatedly edited scientific reports to downplay the role that human activities play in global warming.
Science can only inform our decisions if scientists are allowed to share their findings without censorship or fear of repercussion. The ongoing scientific debate over the degree to which human induced climate change is impacting the frequency and severity of hurricanes has tremendous policy implications. If science tells us that human induced climate change is fueling the frequency or severity of hurricanes, it becomes even more imperative that Congress and the Administration take steps to plan for such disasters and begin to limit anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions before we suffer any more consequences.
NOAA=s recent report is a key piece of federally funded information that is essential for Congress and the American people as we continue to seek ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change. For this reason, we ask that you expeditiously respond to the issues raised in this letter and provide us with any earlier versions of the consensus statement prepared by the seven-member NOAA panel.
U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg U.S. Senator Robert Menendez U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman U.S. Senator Dick Durbin U.S. Senator John Kerry