Philip A. Cooney

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Philip A. Cooney currently works for ExxonMobil. [1] He served as chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, an institution that shapes much of America's environmental policy, from 2001 to 2005. [2] [3]

Cooney is a lawyer and holds a bachelors degree in economics. Prior to working at the White House, he was a "climate team leader" and lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute.

Rewriting climate change science

In June 2005, Cooney was criticised for radically changing a number of 2002 and 2003 official reports on climate change, despite his lack of scientific expertise.

The New York Times reported that "In a section on the need for research into how warming might change water availability and flooding, he crossed out a paragraph describing the projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack. His note in the margins explained that this was 'straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings.'" [4]

In a lengthy memo Rick S. Piltz, a former senior associate in the Climate Change Science Program, revealed that U.S. government climate research reports had been edited by Cooney, to emphasize doubts about climate change. According to Piltz's memo Cooney changed one 2002 document to "create an enhanced sense of scientific uncertainty about climate change and its implications." [5]

In March of 2005 Piltz resigned and subsequently contacted the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection organization. [6] A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, told the New York Times that Cooney would not be available to speak to reporters after Piltz's memo was released. "He's not a cleared spokesman," she said of Cooney. [7] Myron Ebell from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, defended the editing as necessary for "consistency."

The spokesman for the White House, Scott McClellan, defended Cooney's role in editing scientific reports on climate change. McClellan sought to downplay Cooney's role in editing the reports insisting that all reports were reviewed by an interagency taskforce involving 15 agencies. McClellan also sought to invoke the credibility of the National Academy of Sciences as having endorsed one of the reports cited in the Piltz's statement, not that they would have known of Cooney's watering down of what it stated. Challenged on whether Cooney had any scientific credentials, McClellan at first defended him: "And he's one of the policy people involved in that process, and someone who's very familiar with the issues relating to climate change and the environment."

"Because of his work lobbying for the oil industry?," a journalist asked. McClellan decided it was time to retreat to safer ground. "I'll be glad to get you his background, Terry," he said.[8]

Two days after the New York Times reported on Piltz's revelations Cooney resigned. White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, told Reuters that Cooney's resignation was unrelated to the report. Cooney, she claimed, had "long been considering his options following four years of service in the administration ... He had accumulated four weeks of leave and decided to resign and take the summer off to spend time with his family." [9]

In an editorial the Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted that while much of the coverage had focused on Cooeny's editing efforts "less attention has settled on his collaboration with Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in making these revisions." [10]

The following day ExxonMobil confirmed that it has hired Cooney but declined to provide details of his new job, which he started in Autumn 2005. [11] Deputy spokeswoman for the White House, Dana Perino, told the New York Times "Phil Cooney did a great job and we appreciate his public service and the work that he did, and we wish him well in the private sector." [12]

Once more McClellan was asked about Cooney. "Scott, on Philip Cooney, you said earlier today that the White House has been -- that he had been looking at other options for some time. With his move to Exxon, are there concerns now about at least an appearance of impropriety?".

McClellan preferred to try and deflect the question and proceeded to praise the administration's record in addressing climate change. Asked for a third time about the appearance of Cooney's move to ExxonMobil, McClellan finally responded. "Look, in terms of this individual, we wish him well. We appreciate his service," he said. [13]

In an interview with the Guardian (UK), the US research director for Greenpeace, Kert Davies, said of Cooney's return to the oil industry that "the cynical way to look at this is that ExxonMobil has removed its sleeper cell from the White House and extracted him back to the mother ship." [14]

An unnamed ExxonMobil spokesman told the Guardian that Cooney had been hired before the revelations of his editing of the climate science reports. [15] The Times Online also reported that the company "could not say exactly when, or what his job would be."

In an attempt to deflect accusations that the Bush administration pandered to the oil industry, ExxonMobil explained that they had also hired the former press secretary of Democrat Joe Lieberman. (Lieberman is co-sponsor of the Climate Stewardship Act, a bill aimed at reducing U.S. greenhouse emissions.) "We hire from both sides of the aisle," the ExxonMobil spokesman told The Times. [16]

Reuters reported that an ExxonMobil statement explained that Cooney had been hired at the same time as Lieberman's former communications director. Reuters reported that "Cooney was hired to work in the company's public affairs group in Dallas, Texas, not as a lobbyist, the oil company said in a statement." [17] (The statement referred to is not on ExxonMobil's website).

A June 15 media release from Lieberman announced that his former Communications Director, Matt Gobush had left to "become Manager of Executive Communications for Exxon Mobil Corporation." [18]

Congressional investigations

After the 2006 elections, Congressman Henry Waxman began a number of investigations into the politicization of climate science. At a hearing in March 2006[19], Cooney testified under oath and the committee released a deposition he gave[20] as well as documents they received from the White House[21]. Rick Piltz currently operates Climate Science Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group, affiliated with the Government Accountability Project.

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