Max Mayfield: 'No One Forced Me to Say Anything'

Former Hurricane Center Director Contradicts Democrats' Political Pressure Claims


Dec. 11, 2007 —

The former director of the National Hurricane Center says political pressure did not cause him to change his congressional testimony to downplay the link between global warming and hurricanes — contradicting the findings of a Democratic led investigation released Monday.

"I can truthfully say that no one told me at any time what to say in regard to possible impacts of climate change on tropical cyclones," said Max Mayfield in an e-mail to ABC News.

Mayfield was responding to questions about a section in a new report titled "Political Interference With Climate Change Science Under the Bush Administration" — the end result of a 16-month investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee is chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

The report notes that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mayfield was due to testify at a Sept. 2005 hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on disaster prevention. The connection between global warming and stronger hurricanes had been getting renewed attention after new scientific studies released over the previous summer.

The Waxman report details an e-mail from Tom Jones, a staffer for Alaska's Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, that he wrote to Noel Turner, an employee in the Office of Legislative Affairs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the days leading up to the hearings. Jones apparently wanted Mayfield to say that global warming was not making hurricanes stronger.

"We're going to work on smacking the [expletive] out of this issue," Jones wrote. "I'd love to have an answer from him that doesn't contain any long words or flavor of equivocation. Something like, 'mr chairman, the individuals who are implying that Katrina has something to do with global warming are just plain wrong. They don't understand the science and they're shamelessly trying to make political hay out of a national tragedy.'"

Turner then e-mailed a colleague at NOAA about Jones' request.

"If we can get something close and quotable, that would probably be good," Jones wrote. "I think the number one priority with this hearing is making FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] look bad. Number two could be killing the climate change and hurricanes issue."

The Waxman report claims that "this political motivation seems to have impacted NOAA testimony and talking points" because Mayfield's written testimony included a statement similar to what Jones had asked for.

For example, Mayfield's written testimony read in part: "the increased activity since 1995 is due to natural fluctuations/cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming."

Mayfield, however, denies that anyone told him to alter his testimony as the Waxman report suggests.

"I want the record to show that no one forced me to say anything on the subject of climate change and tropical cyclones that I didn't believe at the time," Mayfield told ABC News.

"I accept the fact that global warming is real," Mayfield said. "Most meteorologists with knowledge of tropical cyclones think that there will be some impact from global warming on hurricanes. The debate is over how much of an impact."

He says he never heard from anyone on the committee about the incident. "No one ever asked me about the context in which my testimony was given. No one from this committee or any other Congressional committee ever asked me if I was improperly pressured to change my testimony," Mayfield said.

A spokesperson for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mayfield left the National Hurricane Center earlier this year and now works as a hurricane specialist for WPLG-TV in Miami.