Corbett Officials Ordered DCNR to Drop Climate References from Website

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources oversees more than 2 million acres of public land, like Tiadaghton State Forest in north central Pennsylvania. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

September 19, 2014

The Corbett administration ordered staffers from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to remove several references to 'climate change' from agency websites in early 2012, said a former agency employee.

Adrian Stouffer, formerly the marketing manager for the agency’s Office of Education, Communications and Partnerships, said she and other DCNR staffers were called into a meeting in the Governor’s offices in early 2012, and told to remove ‘climate change’ “in cases where we looked like we were giving a position” on the issue. That meant taking down mentions of the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. 

“A lot of it was re-worded to not use the words ‘climate change’, and other parts were deleted,” said Stouffer, who left the agency in 2012 to become a stay-at-home parent. She lives in Etters, Pa.

Archived versions of the agency-run website indicate that references to the urgency and causes of climate change were taken down.

In the "Why Conserve?" section of the site, a page labeled "Climate Change" no longer appears. The page appeared on an archived version of the site in 2011. It read: "The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the earth's climate is warming rapidly due to the atmospheric buildup of heat-trapping emissions, primarily carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and automobiles." The page does not appear in a subsequent archive of the site from August, 2012. 

Image Above: This archived Web page appeared in 2011 on By August, 2012, it no longer appeared on the site. 

Christina Novak, spokeswoman for the DCNR, said in an e-mail the deletions were in keeping with typical changes state agencies make when a new governor takes office.

“Agencies typically review websites to determine if information being communicated with the public is consistent with policy platforms of the new administration. That was done several years ago, and we had about a half dozen places on the websites DCNR maintains where we made some changes to existing language.”

Gov. Tom Corbett earlier this year told StateImpact PA he believes the causes of climate change are ‘subject of debate’. 

A roundup of scientific studies on the subject found that 97 percent of climate scientists believe human-made emissions are "very likely" causing climate change.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported last year that the largest cause of global warming is human-made carbon-dioxide emissions. 

Stouffer said parts of that included recommendations on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases were taken down because that information supported the view that humans are causing climate change.

“It was giving a position,” Stouffer said.

Novak said there were no written or formal instruction given. Novak added that several mentions of climate change were still included on the DCNR’s websites, including a page on climate change adaptation that shows what impacts warming temperatures will have on Pennsylvania species.

“While reducing greenhouse gases, a process referred to as mitigation, is essential, it won’t prevent the inevitable changes resulting from to [sic] the greenhouse gases already in [sic] atmosphere,” the page reads. “Consequently, we need to begin developing strategies to deal with both the direct and indirect effects of climate change.”

An archived page from 2011 on "Clean Energy" states: "Carbon free means freedom from air pollution, the potential impacts of climate change, and the reliance on foreign sources of fuel." The current page drops "the potential impacts of climate change" from the sentence. The page still says wind energy “releases zero greenhouse gas emissions.” In addition, Keystone Wild! Notes, an agency newsletter, has had several stories about climate change, Novak said.