White House Council on Environmental Quality Edits EPA Administrator’s Op-Ed

Published Feb 17, 2002

In July 2002, officials in the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) revised an op-ed by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman scheduled to appear in Time Magazine. The edits resulted in the exaggeration of the Kyoto Protocol’s possible negative effects on U.S. jobs.

The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that sets targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was created in 19971 with U.S. involvement under the Clinton administration.2 In 2002, amidst ongoing debate about whether the United States should ratify the Kyoto Protocol,3 Administrator Whitman planned to publish an op-ed that described President Bush’s climate change policy and justified the administration’s refusal to ratify the Protocol.4

Internal emails obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reveal that CEQ revised and edited Administrator Whitman’s op-ed.5 On July 15, 2002 CEQ official Sam Thernstrom sent out a revised version with the inserted claim that signing the Kyoto Protocol would put 5 million Americans out of work.6 EPA Associate Administrator Tom Gibson replied and objected that the figure, which was based on an Energy Information Agency report, assumed an unrealistic implementation of the protocol.7 Gibson also stated that the “5 million” figure “is also the high end of the numbers that were expressed as a range.”8

Thernstrom consulted with CEQ chief of staff Phil Cooney and CEQ head James Connaughton and quickly replied to Gibson that “the figure is taken directly from the President’s 2-14 speech, and Jim Connaughton’s Senate testimony last week. Using merely an abstract dollar figure may not be as compelling.”9

Administrator Whitman removed the offending statistic herself later that day. The CEQ apparently overruled her, thus ensuring that she followed the unitary White House policy on climate change.10 As published in Time, the op-ed claimed that “Kyoto would put millions of Americans out of work.”11 CEQ officials were still making such inflated claims as late as 2005.12

  1. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Kyoto Protocol”.
  2. Vedantam, S. 2005. “Kyoto Treaty Takes Effect Today.” Washington Post, February 16.
  3. Waxman, H. 2007. White House engaged in systematic effort to manipulate climate change science. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
  4. Whitman, C. T. 2002. “A Strong Climate Plan.” Time Magazine, August 18.
  5. Waxman, H. 2007.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Whitman 2002.
  12. Waxman 2007; Vedantam 2005.