Commerce Department officials may have tried to stop a government scientist from speaking to reporters because of his views on global warming, a California congressman says.
The officials "tried to suppress a federal scientist from discussing the link between global warming and hurricanes," according to a letter sent Tuesday from Rep. Henry Waxman to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
The link between human-caused global warming and stronger hurricanes has been well established in several peer-reviewed scientific studies released in recent years.
Virtually all researchers who study hurricanes agree that warming temperatures will make hurricanes stronger, although there is debate over how much stronger they may get.
Officials at the Commerce Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told ABC News today that they strongly disputed Waxman's allegations that scientists were being censored by political appointees.
"The inherent allegation that there's some sort of political bias reflected here is absurd," said NOAA public affairs director Jordan St. John.
Waxman, an outspoken Democrat and frequent critic of the Bush administration's stance on global warming, is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform.
The letter details the chronology of an e-mail -- obtained by Waxman's office -- between officials at NOAA and the Commerce Department, which oversees a number of federal agencies, including NOAA.
The e-mail centered on an October 2005 request from CNBC television to interview NOAA scientist Thomas Knutson about the link between hurricanes and global warming.
The CNBC request was taken by Jana Goldman, a public affairs officer at NOAA. She noted in the request that "Knutson is the co-author of a 2004 paper that indicated that if carbon dioxide continues to rise at its current rate that hurricane intensity can rise about 5 percent over the next 80 years."
Goldman forwarded the request to St. John, Scott Smullen and Kent Laborde in the public affairs office at NOAA headquarters.
Laborde then sent the request to Chuck Fuqua, a press officer at the Department of Commerce.
Fuqua, according to Waxman's letter and a Commerce Department spokesman, was director of media operations for the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Fuqua wrote back to Laborde, asking, "What is Knutson's position on global warming vs. decadal cycles? Is he consistent with Bell and Landsea?"
Gerry Bell and Chris Landsea are NOAA hurricane researchers who have repeatedly emphasized natural "decadal" cycles not global warming as a cause of more powerful hurricanes.
Laborde then responded to Fuqua's question, writing: "His take is that even with worse case projections of greenhouse gas concentrations, there will be a very small increase in hurricane intensity that won't be realized until almost 100 years from now."
Fuqua then asked, "Why can't we have one of the other guys then?"
"This apparently ended the matter," Waxman said in his letter, citing a NOAA Daily Media Tracking Log that reports the CNBC "request was denied."
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in February, Knutson said his views had been censored.