Texas agency deletes climate change from report
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An oceanographer and a Texas-based research organization are accusing the state’s environmental agency of censoring references to sea level rise and climate change in a new report on the health of Galveston Bay.
John Anderson, professor of oceanography at Rice University, said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ, had removed every reference to “sea level rise, human influenced changes, changes in sediment supply due to the construction of dams and things of that nature.”
“It was very clear this review was not done by a scientist, there were no alternate scenarios presented,” Anderson said. “It was strictly going through and delete, delete, delete.”
The report, “State of the Bay,” is about Galveston Bay and is meant for the general public. TCEQ commissions the Houston Advanced Research Center, or HARC, to write the report every five to 10 years on behalf of the commission’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program. The previous report was published in 2002.
The report’s editors said they were standing behind Anderson and have asked for the names of all scientists involved in the report to be stricken if TCEQ publishes a pared-down version.
At issue are statements such as “sea level rise is one of the major impacts of global climate change and has accelerated.” Anderson said that information is well accepted and taken from peer-reviewed scientific literature including journals such as Science.
TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said the agency has asked HARC to remove Anderson’s chapter because “it was beyond the scope of the State of Galveston Bay report and inconsistent with current agency policy.”
“It would be irresponsible to take whatever is sent to us and publish it. And here, information was included in a report that we disagree with,” Morrow said in an email.
But sea level rise is a major threat to Galveston Bay, the scientists said. “You know how concerned people are about the islands in the South Pacific? Well, Galveston Island is just like that,” said Jim Lester, HARC’s vice president. “A small amount of sea level rise can swallow a lot of land along the Texas coast.”
The scientists had been cautioned at the beginning of the process against mentioning human causes of sea level rise or ocean acidification, according to the editors.
“It had been suggested to us early on that human-induced climate change was a sensitive topic, so we didn’t feel the need to talk about human induced climate change,” said Lester. “We just felt the need to talk about changes in sea level and changes in temperature as it would impact the Galveston Bay system.”
In an early draft, TCEQ removed references to projected sea level rise that had been taken from a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The scientists replaced IPCC projections with actual measurements of sea level rise taken at the bay.
But TCEQ also objected to that data. And the agency revised Anderson’s passage on development in wetlands.
Anderson wrote, “The same thing is currently happening along the south shore of West Bay, where bulkheads have been constructed at the edges of the wetlands and development has been allowed to fill and build on wetlands through a regulatory permitting process.”
TCEQ’s revision: “The same thing is currently happening along the south shore of the West Bay. Bulkheads have been constructed at the edges of the wetlands and wetlands have been developed as authorized through a regulatory permitting process.”
Lester and Lisa Gonzalez, co-editors and research scientists at HARC, said the controversy this year was probably because TCEQ has different leadership today than in 2002, when the last edition was published.
“TCEQ is run by a commission, and the chairman of that commission make statements about his doubt that there is such a thing as human-induced climate change,” Lester said.