WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday released a long-suppressed report by George W. Bush administration officials who had concluded -- based on science -- that the government should begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions because global warming posed serious risks to the country.
The report, known as an "endangerment finding," was done in 2007. The Bush White House refused to make it public because it opposed new government efforts to regulate the gases most scientists see as the major cause of global warming.
The existence of the finding -- and the refusal of the Bush administration to make it public -- were already known. But no copy of the document had been released until Tuesday.
The document "demonstrates that in 2007 the science was as clear as it is today," said Adora Andy, EPA spokeswoman. "The conclusions reached then by EPA scientists should have been made public and should have been considered."
The Bush administration EPA draft was released in response to a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act by the environmental trade publication Greenwire.
A finding that greenhouse gases and global warming pose serious risks to the nation is a necessary step in instituting government regulation. President Obama and congressional Democrats are seeking major climate legislation, but the administration has indicated that if Congress fails to act, it might use an EPA finding to move toward regulation on its own.
In April, the administration released its proposal for an endangerment finding. The newly released document from the Bush EPA shows that much of the Obama document embraces the earlier, suppressed finding word for word.
"Both reach the same conclusion -- that the public is endangered and regulation is required," said Jason Burnett, a former associate deputy administrator who resigned from the EPA in June 2008 amid frustration over the Bush administration's inaction on climate change. "Science and the law transcend politics."
The 2007 draft offers an unequivocal endorsement of the prevailing views among climate scientists. It includes a declaration that the "U.S. and the rest of the world are experiencing the effects of climate change now" and warns that in the U.S., those effects could lead to drought, more frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events, increased respiratory disease and a rise in heat-related deaths.
The Obama version of the finding has gone through the necessary hearings and public comments. A final EPA version is expected to be released soon.
Although the 2007 and 2009 findings are nearly identical in their conclusions about climate change, the Bush version is far less detailed.
A current EPA official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the sparse descriptions in the 2007 version suggested that EPA officials were worried about how the White House would respond.
"They honed it down to the essential language to explain an endangerment finding," the official said. "In 2009, those constraints are removed. . . . You don't see those same linguistic gymnastics."