October 29, 2014

Whistleblower Spotlight – Climate Change Whistleblower Rick Piltz

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

This week’s “Whistleblower Spotlight” falls on Rick Piltz, former climate policy analyst in the George W. Bush Administration.  He is the whistleblower who exposed a White House putting politics before science by distorting scientific findings on global warming.  His release of internal government documents showing a White House behaving badly led to the immediate ousting of President Bush’s environmental policy chief.  It also changed the way the country looked at the threat of global warming.  Piltz died last week and was the subject of many tributes hailing him as a gutsy hero who stood up against a government refusing to come clean on climate change.

Piltz worked in the White House group that coordinated climate research among the varying government agencies dealing with the subject.  He quit in 2005 because he could no longer be complicit in what he viewed as a “conspiracy of silence,” looking the other way while administration officials tampered with scientific reports to downplay the serious threat of global warming.  As the New York Times reported last week, after Piltz left the government, he sent the paper a “fat FedEx package of documents” chock full of nuggets of the White House’s scientific meddling.  They were largely at the hand of Philip A. Cooney who ran the Bush Office overseeing the Administration’s environmental initiatives.  Here are just a few examples of Cooney’s tinkering:

  • He added the words “significant and fundamental” before the word “uncertainties.”
  • He added the word “extremely” to the sentence “the attribution of the cause of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability is extremely . . . .
  • He crossed out a paragraph describing to what extent mountain glaciers and snowpacks were projected to shrink.

All this despite the fact that Cooney had no scientific training and immediately prior to his White House stint had been a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s principal Washington mouthpiece.  Less than a week after the Times reported on Piltz’ proffering, Cooney resigned from his government post to take a public affairs position with Exxon Mobil.

As for Piltz, he went on to found Climate Science Watch with the whistleblower watchdog group the Government Accountability Project (GAP).  He was also awarded the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, recognizing him as the “first insider to expose how politics worked to undermine the integrity of the federal science program.”  He was clearly a beloved figure to so many in the environmental and whistleblower community who will be greatly missed.  Perhaps GAP’s personalized tribute put it best: “As time and the climate change crisis evolves, Piltz’ legacy will increasingly be seen within this nation and internationally as one of truth and honor.  . . .  He will live on through the actions of all of us whose lives were touched by his intelligence, energy and commitment to justice, integrity and common sense.”

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