Trump official publishes papers questioning seriousness of climate change without White House approval

Source: By Jason Samenow, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Papers bearing the presidential seal appear on climate contrarian websites but were not authorized

Controversial papers questioning the seriousness of climate change led by David Legates, a senior official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appointed by President Trump, have been published online without White House approval.

The papers, which were published on nongovernment websites, bear the imprint of the Executive Office of the President and state they were copyrighted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). But they were disavowed.

“These papers were not created at the direction of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy nor were they cleared or approved by OSTP leadership,” OSTP spokeswoman Kristina Baum said in an email.

The papers make controversial and disputed claims about climate science, including that human-caused global warming “involves a large measure of faith” and that computer models are “too small and slow” to produce meaningful climate simulations.

Legates did not reply to requests for comment regarding why the papers were published bearing the seal of the Executive Office of the President when they were not approved.

Legates, a climate skeptic and climatology professor at the University of Delaware, has been a mysterious figure at NOAA since he started in September. Shortly after joining the agency he was detailed to a position overseeing the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates federal climate change research, while remaining a NOAA employee.

Some at NOAA feared Legates, who has a long history of contributing to the Heartland Institute and its efforts to cast doubt on mainstream climate science findings, was working on a pet project, possibly one that could be harmful to NOAA’s climate research programs.

The work Legates produced, called “The Climate Change Flyers,” constitutes nine two- to 10-page essays that question the reliability of computer models, the human-induced causes of climate change, and links between climate change and hurricanes, among other topics.

“These flyers have been written by top scientists from leading institutions from around North America,” says the introduction to the series, written by Legates. “The Office of Science and Technology Policy is pleased to bring you these briefs to further your understanding of climate change by learning from these learned scholars.”

There is no information provided regarding whether the essays were peer-reviewed or the process for developing them.

One essay, titled “Systematic Problems in the Four ‘National Assessments’ of Climate Change Impacts on the United States,” attempts to discredit all the U.S. government’s previous authoritative reports, which were subject to multiple rounds of extensive peer review, including by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

Legates was appointed by the White House to oversee the next such assessment, but his last day is this week.

Andrew Rosenberg, a former NOAA official and director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said the papers appear to be aimed at influencing the content of the next assessment, saying it’s an effort to “seed the record for the National Climate assessment and future legal action by circumventing the peer review and consensus process.”

“They want to get nonsensical debunked pseudoscience into the ‘official’ government record without subjecting it to independent evaluation,” Rosenberg wrote in an email.

The controversial, unapproved papers were published to a website hosted by the Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences, which calls itself “a multi-disciplinary and independent research group,” but provides no information as to any individual or organization that supports it and asks its visitors to provide donations.

It appeals for contributions by declaring its independence “from industry, government, religion, politics or ideology,” despite posting the documents from Legates bearing the Executive Office of the President’s seal.

The papers were written by well-known climate-change contrarians including William Happer, a professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University, who served a stint on the White House National Security Council in the Trump administration, and Ross McKitrick, an economics professor at the University of Guelph.

Several of the authors who contributed to the White House effort have either received funding from the fossil fuel industry or are affiliated with anti-regulatory organizations or both, including Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but it’s unclear where the funding for this series of papers came from.

Legates is listed as the main author of the series, with other contributors including Ryan Maue, who was installed as NOAA chief scientist in September and subsequently detailed over to OSTP in November. Maue recognizes the reality of human-caused climate change but has spoken out repeatedly against what he views as overly alarmist findings or interpretations of climate science.

Roy Spencer, who wrote one of the nine papers in the series, titled “The Faith-Based Nature of Human-Caused Global Warming,” is a climate scientist at the University of Alabama who has long questioned the extent of the link between climate change and human activities. He posted the entire set of papers on his personal blog last week, and he indicated that they had not been approved for publication on the official White House website.

“David [Legates] hopes to be able to get these posted on the White House website by January 20 (I presume so they will become a part of the outgoing Administration’s record) but there is no guarantee given recent events,” Spencer wrote. “He said we are free to disseminate them widely.”

In addition to containing the seal the of the Executive Office of the President, the papers also include a copyright statement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, despite lacking approval.

The use of the seal without authorization could be a legal infraction. U.S. Code states: “Whoever fraudulently or wrongfully affixes or impresses the seal of any department or agency of the United States … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

OSTP did not reply to a question regarding any disciplinary measures for Legates’ actions.