Watchdog closes probe into alleged censorship of Park Service climate report

Watchdog closes probe into alleged censorship of Park Service climate report
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The Interior Department’s internal watchdog said it closed its investigation into alleged censorship of a National Park Service (NPS) report because it was released without edits.

Reveal reported in April that Trump administration officials had removed mentions of climate change from a draft report examining the impact to NPS sites from sea-level rise and storm surges.

That prompted Interior’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate, after five House Democrats, led by House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), asked for the probe.

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But in May, after opening the investigation, NPS released the report, which directly blamed human-induced climate change for rising seas and worsening storm surges.

“Shortly after we opened our investigation, the NPS published the report with all original references to human-caused climate change,” the OIG, led by Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, wrote in a brief summary report released Wednesday. “Because the report was published without edits, we closed our investigation.”

Grijalva criticized the OIG and said the conclusion doesn’t clear the Trump administration of censorship charges.

“A widely published climate researcher with a sterling reputation had to put her career on the line to get the honest version of this report out the door,” he said in a statement, referring to Maria Caffrey, the lead author of the report who spoke to Reveal.

“The inspector general essentially said that if you get caught robbing a bank and the money is returned, no crime was committed," he said. "After 18 months of lies and manipulation, we know we need to hold this administration to a higher standard. If political appointees feel free to ignore scientific integrity policies, then Congress may need to step in and give them some sharper teeth.”

NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum said the agency stands by its report.

"The National Park Service is confident in the quality and accuracy of the science behind the sea level rise and storm surge projections presented in the report," he said in a statement.

"The report has undergone several rounds of internal and external scientific peer review to ensure that it is most helpful and relevant to the intended audience of park managers and planners, and accurately portrays scientific understanding of how a changing climate and associated sea level rise can affect national park infrastructure, facilities, and resources," he said. 

The report at issue found that 118 park units are at risk from sea-level rise and 79 are at risk from storm surges, although risks vary greatly by region.

“Human activities continue to release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm,” the report says. “Further warming of the atmosphere will cause sea levels to continue to rise, which will affect how we protect and manage our national parks.”