Two sentences censored from a draft the official National Park Service report on sea level rise and storm surge, 6 February 2018. Graphic: Reveal / The Center for Investigative Reporting

By Elizabeth Shogren
2 April 2018

(Reveal) – National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge, contradicting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vow to Congress that his department is not censoring science.

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 6 February 2018, 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.

The 87-page report, which was written by a University of Colorado Boulder scientist, has been held up for at least 10 months, according to documents obtained by Reveal. The delay has prevented park managers from having access to the best data in situations such as reacting to hurricane forecasts, safeguarding artifacts from floodwaters or deciding where to locate new buildings.

The omissions reflect a broader crackdown on climate science at federal agencies, including removal of references to human impacts, since President Donald Trump took office. Trump previously called climate change a Chinese hoax, took steps to withdraw from an international agreement to cut greenhouse gases and moved toward reversing President Barack Obama’s policies to regulate power plant emissions.

Critics say the National Park Service’s editing of the report reflects unprecedented political interference in government science at the Interior Department, which oversees the park service.

Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, said the deletions are “shocking from a scientific point of view, but also from a policy point of view.”

“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.” […]

Zinke testified at a Senate committee hearing last month that the Interior Department has not changed any 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. [more]

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