WASHINGTON â€” Two House Republicans are asking the White House for documents to explain why a scientist appointed by the Trump administration was removed from her post overseeing a government-wide report on climate change.
Betsy Weatherhead, a career scientist named in November to lead the sweeping National Climate Assessment, was reassigned last month to the U.S. Geological Survey, an Interior Department agency.
The White House declined to say why Weatherhead, a longtime University of Colorado climate scientist who also has worked in the private sector, was removed from her post.
Weatherhead was technically on loan to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy â€” which oversees the climate report â€” and is “returning to her home agency,” the White House said. No reason was given, nor did officials say when a replacement will be named.
GOP Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina called Weatherhead’s removal suspicious, noting that she has decades of experience in climate science, in academia and the private sector. Whitehead worked at Jupiter Intelligence, a company that provides advice on managing climate change risks, before joining the White House.
"It appears the Biden administration is continuing to purge officials in the government based on their ties to the Trump administration," they wrote.
Comer is the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, while Norman is the senior Republican on the panel’s environment subcommittee.
Comer and Norman also demanded records last month from the Environmental Protection Agency related to a decision by EPA Administrator Michael Regan to remove dozens of scientists and other experts from two key advisory boards.
In a letter to Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment at the White House science and technology policy office, Comer and Norman said Weatherhead’s selection to oversee the National Climate Assessment "received widespread adulation from Democrats, Republicans and even Obama administration officials.”
Don Wuebbles, who helped lead a climate assessment during the Obama administration, called Weatherhead "bright and accomplished” and told The Washington Post “she's certainly a reasonable choice for this."
Weatherhead’s reassignment within the first months of a new administration appears "solely based on her ties to the Trump administration,” Comer and Norman wrote, and "demonstrates yet another example of a deeply troubling partisan political agenda” under President Joe Biden.
The National Climate Assessment is the U.S. government's definitive report on the effects of climate change and includes contributions from at least 13 government agencies. The most recent report, issued in 2018, warned that natural disasters are worsening in the United States because of global warming.
Despite concerns that Trump administration officials would tamper with its findings, the report was widely praised as accurately portraying the threat posed by climate change.
Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed or disputed the effects of climate change, said he read some of the report "and it's fine." But Trump said he did not believe the report’s key conclusion that hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters are worsening because of global warming and are likely to cause hundreds of billions of dollars a year in damage.
Biden, meanwhile, calls climate change an existential threat to the planet and has made efforts to slow global warming a top priority of his administration. He led a virtual global summit on climate change from the White House last month.
Matthew Daly, The Associated Press