It remains unclear what will come of a coastal assessment that has been censored by the administration of Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry to remove references to rising sea levels, among other things. But scientists involved in the affair say they have learned their lesson.
“People who do research on the gulf coast need to be more organized,” says John Anderson, an oceanographer at Rice University in Houston. “Then when things like this happen you have a body of scientists who can speak out and say this is unacceptable.”
“If we are going to work with the ”http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/“>Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) again, we will want language in the contract that will protect us from censorship,” adds Jim Lester, chief operating officer of the private non-profit Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC).
The report in question is the latest in a series of regular environmental assessments regarding Galveston Bay on the Gulf of Mexico near Houston. Lester headed up the work at HARC and commissioned Anderson to pen a chapter that was focused largely on the impacts of rising sea levels. Based on peer-reviewed work, that chapter discussed accelerating sea-level rise due to global warming as well as the history of rising tides going back to the last glaciation.
After raising various objections, Anderson says, the TCEQ recently moved to delete references to rising sea levels — regardless of cause — as well as sedimentation problems caused by dams and other human influences. To make things crystal clear, the agency conveniently activated “track changes” in Microsoft Word and provided a copy of the chapter to the scientists. Entire paragraphs and sentences were deleted, as were references to peer-reviewed papers at the end. In one case, TCEQ converted “rising sea levels” to “changing sea levels”.
A handful of scientists drew up the full report, and Lester says he expects everybody involved to stand with Anderson and withhold their names from the publication. TCEQ officials declined to answer questions Friday but provided an email response indicating that the report contained “information… that we disagree with.” The statement goes on to say that TCEQ called for the removal of the entire chapter, which was beyond the scope of the report and “inconsistent with current Agency policy.”
The news initially broke in the Houston Chronicle, then hit Mother Jones and went international. None of the Republican candidates are supportive of global warming regulations, but Perry has been particularly vocal in his skepticism regarding anthropogenic global warming. That kind of position would make the administration of George W. Bush, which was also accused of censorship and obstructionism, appear positively progressive. Officially, at least, the Bush administration didn’t question the basic science.
Lester says he expects TCEQ to remove Anderson’s chapter and publish the volume without any of the scientists’ names. For his part, Anderson laments the message that this kind of political interference sends to scientists who engage in public outreach. “We are making an effort, but it’s depressing when you run into these kinds of obstacles,” he says. “Mr. Perry talked about building a wall between Mexico and Texas. Scientifically, he has kind of built one around Texas.”