A National Park Service report expected to be released soon after a long delay has had every mention of human-caused climate change removed from a recent draft, according to documents obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.
The revelation flies in the face of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s testimony in front of Congress that his department is not altering or censoring scientific reports.
The research for the first time projects the risks from rising seas and flooding at 118 coastal national park sites, including the National Mall, the original Jamestown settlement and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Originally drafted in the summer of 2016 yet still not released to the public, the National Park Service report is intended to inform officials and the public about how to protect park resources and visitors from climate change.
Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting obtained and analyzed 18 versions of the scientific report. In changes dated Feb. 6, a park service official crossed out the word “anthropogenic,” the term for people’s impact on nature, in five places. Three references to “human activities” causing climate change also were removed.
Climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability Jonathan Overpeck said the deletions are shocking.
“To remove a very critical part of the scientific understanding is nothing short of political censorship and has no place in science,” he said. “Censorship of this kind is something you’d see in Russia or some totalitarian regime. It has no place in America.”
The alterations also could violate National Park Service policy:
“It looks like a pretty clear-cut, blatant violation of what we generally would consider to be scientific integrity,” said Jane Lubchenco, who led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Obama.
National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said the agency would not comment on the editing of a report that had not yet been released. He said that it was premature to report on it and that it would be released soon.
Just last month, Zinke testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that his department had not changed scientific documents.
“There is no incident, no incident at all that I know that we ever changed a comma on a document itself. Now we may have on a press release,” Zinke told the senators. “And I challenge you, any member, to find a document that we’ve actually changed on a report.”
Zinke’s press secretary said no one at the Interior Department was available to comment about the report.
However, Zinke did note that press releases were a different story and might be subject to alteration.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, pressed Zinke about censoring science. She asked him about department officials deleting this line from a press release about a newly published scientific article: “Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding.”
In his testimony, Zinke differentiated editing press releases from altering scientific reports. He also rebuffed suggestions that he considers references to climate change unacceptable, saying “man has been an influencer” on the warming climate.