A White House official who stirred a controversy by altering government reports on climate change is going back to work for the oil industry.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Philip Cooney's departure was long planned and "unrelated in any way" to the furor.
Prior to joining President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality, Cooney was an oil industry lobbyist. On Tuesday, Exxon Mobil announced it had hired Cooney for as-yet-unspecified duties.
Environmentalists attacked Cooney after documents were published showing his alterations overruled language supplied by government scientists and downplayed a link between human activity and global warming.
The administration maintains there's substantial uncertainty about a link.
McClellan said the charge that Cooney was just doing the oil industry's bidding is "absolutely false."
In an earlier statement, the White House made no mention of Cooney's plans to join Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company. Its executives have been among the most skeptical in the oil industry about the prospects of climate change because of a growing concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. The leading greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.
Like the Bush administration, Exxon Mobil Chairman Lee Raymond has argued strongly against the Kyoto climate accord and has raised questions about the certainty of climate science as it relates to possible global warming. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have singled out Raymond and Exxon Mobil for protests because of its position on climate change.
Last week, the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that helps whistleblowers, made available documents showing that Cooney was closely involved in final editing of two administration climate reports. He made changes that critics said consistently played down the certainty of the science surrounding climate change.
After Cooney's involvement in editing the climate reports was first reported by The New York Times, the White House defended the changes, saying they were part of the normal, wide-ranging review process and did not violate an administration pledge to rely on sound science.
A whistleblower, Rick Piltz, who resigned in March from the government office that coordinates federal climate change programs, made the documents — showing handwritten edits by Cooney — available to the Project on Government Accountability and, in turn, to news media.