March 04, 2020

Udall Presses Interior Secretary Bernhardt on Climate Science Denial

Multiple recent reports demonstrate a pattern of political appointees promoting climate denial and retaliation against Interior employees who work on climate

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, questioned Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary David Bernhardt about political interference and subversion of climate change science throughout the agency.

According to reporting earlier this week from the New York Times, a Department of the Interior official attempted to insert multiple references that undercut established climate science and relied on debunked climate denial talking points in documents created by the Bureau of Reclamation. In another recent report, the National Park Service (NPS) unsuccessfully attempted to remove climate-related information out of a scholarly article prepared by one of its scientists. Since the start of the Trump administration, there have been at least two whistleblowers, Joel Clement, a former SES official and Dr. Maria Caffrey, an NPS official, who have alleged retaliation for their work on climate. 

“Mr. Secretary, you yourself have testified that the climate is changing, and that humans are a contributing factor,” said Udall. “But unfortunately, you have denied that your Department has any real responsibility for doing anything about it. And now this new report raises alarms about what the Department is really doing behind the scenes with respect to climate science.”

“So, let me ask a yes or no question. Does the Department or any of your bureaus have a position—either officially or unofficially—to question the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, and is human-caused, as part of its decision documents?” asked Udall.

Bernhardt responded only that “the Department regularly comments on climate.”  

Udall followed up asking if Bernhardt was “aware that this Interior official attempted to insert language in reports that ignores well-established climate science? Do you agree with this so-called ‘uncertainty language’ that was inserted into multiple department documents and reports? Were any policy decisions reached as the result of these faulty assumptions?”

Bernhardt replied: “I’ve asked to see what’s been edited and what’s not.”

He went on to argue that these were the views of the individual employee, and claimed that those views are regularly debated within the scientific community.

“I am very happy you are looking at it and I hope you will release something so we can settle this. Climate change is an existential threat and is human caused and we ought to be proactive on it,” responded Udall. 

According to myriad studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, 97 percent or more of actively publishing scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.

Video of Udall’s question is available HERE at 1 hour 11 minutes.