Congressional Democrats Calling For Investigation Into National Park Service

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Democrats in the House and Senate are calling for an investigation into the National Park Service. They say the Trump administration has a pattern of restricting and censoring climate change science. And they point to a report on sea level rise written for the National Park Service as the latest example. Rae Ellen Bichell of member station KUNC visited the scientist who wrote it.

RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: When I arrived at Maria Caffrey's house, her husband was about to take their baby out for a stroll.


MARIA CAFFREY: Cover her little feet.

BICHELL: Her baby is called Katherine. But Caffrey's professional baby is an 86-page report on the National Park Service. She's been toiling over it for the better part of six years. Caffrey's a climate scientist with the University of Colorado. But she also contracted with the service to study how intensifying storms and rising seas might impact more than a hundred National Park Service sites, places like the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

CAFFREY: Oh, it would create flooding across a massive area.

BICHELL: She came up with four outcomes for each site.

CAFFREY: There's a best-case scenario for if us and other nations decide to get together and reduce our CO2 emissions.

BICHELL: And then there's the worst-case scenario if we continue with business as usual. Compiling this report was a long slog. But finally, right before the 2016 presidential election, she turned in the final draft. And the National Park Service has been sitting on it ever since.

CAFFREY: Yeah. Yeah.

BICHELL: The Center for Investigative Reporting requested public records on the study, which show that it had been edited in a very specific way. She shows me on her laptop.

CAFFREY: OK, so they wanted to take out this.

BICHELL: Mentions of climate change being caused by humans have been systematically deleted - words like anthropogenic, the scientist way of saying human-caused. Sounds small...

ROMANY WEBB: But they're really important words.

BICHELL: That's Romany Webb, a climate law fellow at Columbia Law School.

WEBB: And if we remove them, it really impairs public understanding about what's causing climate change and what we can do to fix it.

BICHELL: Webb runs a site at Columbia called the Silencing Science Tracker. It tracks government attempts to restrict or prevent scientific research. So far they have more than 120 entries.

WEBB: And rising pretty much every day.

BICHELL: The National Park Service responded to our requests for an interview with a brief email saying they'll provide more information when the report is final. Meanwhile, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said he's never seen the report.


RYAN ZINKE: So I want an investigation into how that document got around to the press, it got - before even we had a chance to look at it.

BICHELL: Caffrey says there's a reason the press has the document.

CAFFREY: I was legally required to release these records.

BICHELL: She works for a public university, so it had to comply with record requests. It's unclear now what will happen with Caffrey's report on sea level rise. But while this report seems theoretical for now, baby Katherine could live through all the changes her mom's predicting. By 2100 she'll be 83.

CAFFREY: When the next big storm strikes a major city, she can think of mommy and how she warned people.

BICHELL: Or at least how she and others tried.

CAFFREY: I really am trying very hard.

BICHELL: But she's worried about what will happen to her report and how it may impact her future as a scientist. For NPR News, I'm Rae Ellen Bichell.

CHANG: That story comes to us from the Mountain West News Bureau. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.