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Rick Piltz, whistle-blower on federal climate policy, dies at 71

Rick Piltz, a longtime climate policy analyst who exposed how top-level George W. Bush administration officials edited scientific reports to minimize the link between human activity and climate change, died Oct. 18 at a hospice center in Washington. He was 71.

The cause was complications from bladder cancer, said his wife, Karen Metchis. He was a resident of Bethesda, Maryland.

For a decade, Piltz held a senior post with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, through which U.S. government agencies coordinate their support for research on climate. He quit in March 2005, citing frustration with the Bush administration's efforts to change the testimony of federal officials and the reports they submitted documenting the impact of global warming.

The edits -- in some cases subtle, in others as bold as crossing out whole sentences -- altered descriptions of climate research written by government scientists and their supervisors with the apparent intent of raising doubts where many climate experts think there are none.

Many of the fixes were made by Philip Cooney, a onetime lobbyist for an oil industry trade group who was then working as executive director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Cooney reportedly eliminated a passage from a 2002 draft summarizing government climate research that described the impact warming might have on water availability and flooding. He wrote that the language about a projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack was "straying from research strategy into speculative findings/musings."

Piltz, who packed a trove of documents into a box and gave them to The New York Times for publication in June 2005, sent a scathing memo to senior officials at a dozen agencies.

"Each administration has a policy position on climate change," he wrote. "But I have not seen a situation like the one that has developed under this administration during the past four years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the credibility and integrity of the program."

Cooney announced shortly after the documents' publication that he was leaving the administration to join the gas giant Exxon Mobil Corp.

After the Democrats took control of the House and Senate following the 2006 elections, Piltz testified before both chambers on the muzzling of federal scientists. Some of the edited documents he disclosed were included in a probe by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which in December 2007 concluded after a 16-month investigation that the Bush administration had "engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming."

Meanwhile, in summer 2005, Piltz used his own funds to start the group Climate Science Watch under the umbrella of the Washington-based public watchdog organization Government Accountability Project.

At the time he turned whistle-blower, Piltz came under criticism from conservatives, including Sen. James Inhofe(R-Okla.), and the late columnist Robert Novak, who noted that Piltz had once served as a Democratic congressional staffer. As a House Science Committee aide, Piltz had helped write the 1990 Global Change Research Act, which calls for a regular national climate assessment, a 10-year climate research plan and annual progress updates to Congress.

The act also created the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Michael MacCracken, who served as the program's executive director when Piltz joined in 1995, said Piltz pushed repeatedly for the Bill Clinton administration to conduct the national climate survey to evaluate how global warming was affecting the country. The federal government published its third such assessment in May.

"Piltz was a firebrand who often would speak out at public forums about the suppression of federal scientists and the U.S. government's unwillingness to move swiftly enough to cut carbon emissions linked to climate change. He spoke of fossil fuel extraction continuing at a "

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