Agricultural Brochure Cancelled Due to Climate Implications

Published Mar 20, 2003

Even a routine reprint of an already published agricultural brochure describing how farmers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions proved too controversial for the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).1

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sought in September 2003 to reprint a popular informational brochure about carbon sequestration in the soil, and techniques farmers could use to reduce emissions of heat trapping gases. Objections raised by the CEQ, however, resulted in the project’s being scrapped.

According to a government official familiar with the incident, the brochure was widely viewed as one of the Department of Agriculture’s most successful efforts in the climate change field. The Natural Resources Conservation Service had already distributed some 325,000 copies of the brochure, and only sought a modest update, as well as a proposed Spanish edition.2

Yet even this relatively routine proposal was passed to the CEQ for review. William Hohenstein, director of the Global Change Program Exchange in the office of the chief economist at the USDA, acknowledged that it was he who passed the request on to the CEQ. Hohenstein claimed he would do the same “for any documents relating to climate change policy.”3 While Hohenstein said that he had never been explicitly ordered to pass these documents on to the CEQ, he said he knew the White House was concerned “that things regarding climate change be put out by the government in a neutral way.”4

The CEQ raised several questions and objections about the brochure. In reaction to the CEQ’s concerns, staff at the NRCS dropped their proposal for a reprint.5 “It is not just a case of micromanagement, but really of censorship of government information,” said a government official familiar with the case. “In nearly 15 years of government service, I can’t remember ever needing clearance from the White House for such a thing.”6

  1. This page contains material excerpted from the 2004 UCS report, Scientific Integrity in Policymaking.
  2. UCS interview with USDA official, name withheld on request, January 2004
  3. UCS interview with William Hohenstein, USDA, January 2004
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. USDA official