Scientific studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency have hit a standstill while staffers from the Trump administration put them under a microscope. And in the land of “alternative facts,” all new scientific work is being placed on a “temporary hold,” before it can be released, The Associated Press reports.
Doug Ericksen, the communications director for Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said the review includes all existing content on the agency’s website, including details of scientific evidence that show Earth’s climate is indeed warming due to man-made carbon emissions.
He clarified an earlier statement in which he told the Associated Press that the Trump administration required that any studies or data from EPA scientists undergo review by political appointees before they can be made public. However, he was talking about existing scientific information on the EPA website that is currently under review by Trump’s transition team.
The controversial new rules have stirred up outrage among scientists and journalists alike, notes Mother Jones.
“We’re taking a look at everything on a case-by-case basis, including the web page and whether climate stuff will be taken down,” Erickson said. “Obviously with a new administration coming in, the transition time, we’ll be taking a look at the web pages and the Facebook pages and everything else involved here at EPA.”
Former Environmental Protection Agency staffers say that the restrictions posed by the Trump administration are far stricter, going well beyond the practices of previous administrations.
According to George Gray, the assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Research and Development during George W. Bush’s administration, scientific studies were generally reviewed at lower levels, and even when they were at times reviewed at higher levels, it was to notify officials about the studies — not to edit them for content.
“Scientific studies would be reviewed at the level of a branch or a division or laboratory,” said Gray, who is now a professor of Public Health at George Washington University. “Occasionally things that were known to be controversial would come up to me as assistant administrator, and I was a political appointee. Nothing in my experience would go further than that.
“There’s no way to win if you try to change things,” he added.
The EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, developed under former president Barack Obama, requires research and actions to “be grounded, at a most fundamental level, in sound, high-quality science” that is “free from political interference or personal motivations.”
This document specifically “prohibits managers and other Agency leadership from intimidating or coercing scientists to alter scientific data, findings or professional opinions or inappropriately influencing scientific advisory boards.” The policy provides ways for employees who understand the science to have the chance to disagree with scientific reports or policies and provides them with some whistleblower protections.
And earlier this week, the Associated Press along with other media outlets, reported that internal emails sent to EPA staff ordered a temporary blackout on media releases and social media activity, accompanied by a freeze on contract approvals and grant awards. This has, of course, created a great deal of uncertainty regarding the freezes and the lack of information coming from the Environmental Protection Agency since Trump took office. This has raised fears that states and other recipients may lose crucial funding for drinking water protection, hazardous waste oversight and scores of other problems, The Associated Press reports.
Jared Blumenfeld served as the EPA’s regional administrator for California and the Pacific Northwest until last year. He compares what’s going on to a “hostile takeover,” in the corporate world.
“Ericksen and these other folks that have been brought in … have basically put a hold on everything,” he said. Blumenfeld regularly talks with former colleagues who are still at the agency. “The level of mismanagement being exercised during this transition is startling and the impact on the public is alarming.”
One example? EPA employees aren’t certain if they can direct contractors who handle all of California’s Superfund sites. And some EPA employees have begun using their own social media sites to inform people about what’s happening inside the agency, despite the potential for retaliation.
There’s been one bit of positive news that has come out of all of this: Apparently Trump officials have walked back plans to erase references to climate change from the EPA’s website, Science reports.
“We’ve been told to stand down,” said one EPA employee. The day before staff were told to take down the agency’s climate change page from its website, which worried climate activists.
But a backlash was created when reports surfaced that the page may be taken down, and that may have prompted administration officials to change their minds. And indeed, at press time, the page is still up.
Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2013
Scientists have officially declared that 2016 was the hottest year on record, The Washington Post reports. This was the conclusion of two leading science agencies — NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Trump administration seems to want to sweep these findings under the rug, since Trump, after all, appears to be the climate change denier-in-chief. And this is patently unfair to the public. If we are going to improve environmental conditions on this planet, it’s vital for us to know about climate change and to understand how truly bad it is.
Hopefully, EPA scientists will be able to continue their valuable studies on climate change without being hindered by Trump and his crew. Here’s something he could work on instead: His low approval ratings. That’s a start.