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Buried under all the Kavanaugh sexual assault hearings and coverage, there was this side note in yesterday’s NYT about the EPA shutting down the office of the science advisor. This senior post is basically the science ombudsman for the agency to assure that the latest science is applied to the agency’s policies, decisions and regulations. This is a sad day for American democracy and the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the E.P.A. administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans. The person spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public.The science adviser works across the agency to ensure that the highest quality science is integrated into the agency’s policies and decisions, according to the E.P.A.’s website. The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policymaking while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations.
Here’s a good article from Time Magazine — “Here’s What the EPA’s Website Looks Like After a Year of Climate Change Censorship” — which accurately reports how the Trump Administration and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have changed, skewed or deleted government information from the EPA Website for crass political purposes. For more in-depth analysis of the issue of information scrubbing from federal websites, one should look to the work of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) and especially their reports: “Changing the Digital Climate” and “The EPA Under Siege”.
According to former government officials and EPA staffers, the level of scrutiny is without precedent. In the hands of an administration that has eschewed facts for their alternative cousins, the agency’s site is increasingly unmoored from its scientific core.
“In my experience, new administrations might come in and change the appearance of an agency website or the way they present information, but this is an unprecedented attempt to delete or bury credible scientific information they find politically inconvenient,” Heather Zichal, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, and previously President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on energy and climate change, tells TIME.
The EPA’s site is now riddled with missing links, redirecting pages and buried information. Over the past year, terms like “fossil fuels”, “greenhouse gases” and “global warming” have been excised. Even the term “science” is no longer safe.
Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA Administrator under George W. Bush, says the overhaul is “to such an extreme degree that [it] undermines the credibility of the site”…
Of the more than 25,000 web pages tracked by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) since Trump’s election, they say the EPA’s have been hit hardest. One section, which provided local communities with resources for combating climate change, disappeared for months only to resurface heavily redacted, including just 175 of its 380 pages.
Scientific American reports that many science policy experts are "startled" by the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 that envisions dramatic cuts in funds for monitoring air and water quality, climate change and more.
- Trump Wants Deep Cuts in Environmental Monitoring, by Annie Sneed Scientific American (March 24, 2017).
Pres. Donald Trump’s administration could be willfully blinding itself—and the nation—when it comes to the environment…
[T]he consequences of weakening U.S. environmental monitoring abilities would be serious for everyone, says Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate and Energy Program, echoing other policy experts. “So many people need our environmental intelligence," she says. “It’s saving lives, saving businesses money and reducing harm.”
Noting that the budget proposes cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31 percent, which would eliminate 3,200 EPA positions, and would reduce its Office of Research and Development budget by almost half, Kei Koizumi, visiting scholar at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says, “Even if the agency is able to get data about the environment, it wouldn’t have the scientists and research conditions to make sense of it.” The article also says that the EPA cuts would affect grants to outside groups that track the environment.
Another reduction in information gathering: EPA Drops Request for Methane Information from Oil and Gas Industry, By Ellen M. Gilmer, Scientific American (March 3, 2017). Companies are no longer required to provide information about onshore equipment and controls that could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Mark Brownstein, vice president of climate and energy for the Environmental Defense Fund, said “Administrator Pruitt is saying it’s OK for industry to withhold basic information on pollution from oil and gas operations from the American people.” As recently as last year the oil industry complained that the EPA needed more information before it could regulate methane emissions. The new rule ensures that the EPA will not have that information.
Gizmodo and TechCrunch are reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put a mirror of its own website online — a “snapshot” from January 19, the day before Trump was sworn in as president.
- The EPA posted a backup of its website dated just before inauguration day, by Devin Coldewey techcrunch (Feb 16, 2017).
“It’s still technically an EPA website, and so could be removed through executive action, but the fact that it was much-requested via FOIA should make it pretty robust against takedown.”
- The EPA Just Posted A Mirror Website Of The One Trump Plans To Censor by Matt Novak, Gizmodo (Feb 17, 2017).
“… after individual efforts to backup the website, along with plenty of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the EPA just posted a snapshot of the site as it existed on 19 January 2017, the day before Trump was sworn in.
“‘The genius of this approach is that, because they were required by federal law to post the mirror site (because it’s a frequently requested record), it’s harder now to force it down,’ writer and anthologist Russ Kick told Gizmodo over email.”
“This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to www.epa.gov. This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”
Gizmodo reports that “there are elements of the website that aren’t backed up because of size constraints” and provides links to those sections of the current epa.gov website.