In interviews, four current and former Interior Department officials said Mr. Goklany’s rise was abrupt and unexpected.
“They were like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’” said Joel Clement, a former top climate-policy expert at the Interior Department who quit in 2017 and testified in Congress that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was purging the agency of government scientists working to address climate change — allegations later backed by the agency’s inspector general. Mr. Clement is now a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Mr. Zinke has denied the allegations.
The new documents show that, as early as September 2017, Mr. Goklany, newly appointed to the office of the deputy secretary, started directing scientists to add climate uncertainty language in agency reports. In an exchange with scientists at the Bureau of Reclamation, dated Sept. 12 of that year, Mr. Goklany ordered up uncertainty language that the emails say would be included in future studies of river basins, and he directly edited the file.
“My edits are on the attached,” Mr. Goklany wrote in the email, sending a marked up draft that contained the misleading references to the benefits of higher carbon dioxide levels and that questioned the widely accepted scientific research projecting the future course of climate change. He also included an abstract of a paper, indicating, he wrote, “that CO2 may have increased the water use efficiency of plants globally.”
In December of that same year, he gave a presentation at the Interior Department promoting the benefits of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide to human and environmental well-being, according to presentation slides viewed by The Times.
By early 2018, the emails show, the bureau had adopted a de facto requirement that studies reference climate uncertainty. “Attached here is the latest draft of the ‘uncertainty’ language that Dave Raff and others worked on with the Department, to be included in all Basin Studies from here forward,” Avra Morgan, a watershed management official, wrote on Jan. 26, 2018, in an email to more than a dozen bureau scientists.