WASHINGTON -- Christie Whitman, the top U.S. environmental regulator, said Wednesday she was not told in advance about a controversial report released by the federal government that concluded greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities were the primary cause of global warming.
The report caused a stir last week among environmentalists because it appeared to align the Bush administration with scientists who believe vehicle emissions and pollution from power plants and oil refineries have caused global temperatures to rise.
The United States is the world's biggest energy consumer and emissions producer.
President Bush dismissed the report as a product of the federal "bureaucracy." Bush said he had read the report, but the White House later said the president was only briefed on the study.
The report was quietly posted on the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site after it was sent to the United Nations.
Whitman, the head of the EPA, said she did not read the report in advance and did not know of the study until news organizations reported it.
"I knew about it when I read it in the paper," she said Wednesday after a speech at an energy efficiency conference in Washington.
Environmental groups have long questioned whether Whitman has a say in setting administration environmental policies, or if those decisions are made by White House officials. Her comments on the climate change report raised more doubt.
"It certainly creates the appearance that she's an absentee landlord at EPA," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. "It's starting to look like she's [an EPA] administrator in a ceremonial capacity."
The report's conclusions were reviewed by the staff of the EPA, the State Department and other agencies before it was published, Whitman said. "Since nobody saw anything earth-shattering in what the conclusions were ... they didn't think they needed to raise the red flag," she said.
Whitman and White House officials have tried to downplay the controversy by citing a speech Bush gave last year when he stated that human activities were a cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the administration's new report went a step further, saying human activities were primarily to blame for global warming and have caused "surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."