Is Trump′s environment agency silencing its scientists? | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 23.10.2017
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science censored

Is Trump's environment agency silencing its scientists?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has canceled a talk on global warming by three of its scientists in what activists fear is its latest attack on climate action.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has canceled a talk by three of its scientists at an environmental conference Monday in Rhode Island, United States, in what environmentalists fear is the latest move by the agency to silence discussion over climate change.

The head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, has repeatedly said he does not believe that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are primarily responsible for global warming. Since he was appointed by President Donald Trump in February this year, the EPA has deleted state information sources on climate change and moved to roll back legislation aimed at cutting emissions.

Responding to the latest scandal, activist Bethany Wiggin said it was no longer enough to call Pruitt and others political appointees of the present administration "climate deniers."   

"Pruitt is in fact waging what appears to be an all-out war on science, its methods, and the legions of scientists and researchers who would explore, document, and hope to remedy the reality of climate change and other environmental issues," she told DW.

Scientists silenced

The EPA scientists contributed to a report published at the conference that found climate change was affecting air and water temperatures, as well as the sea level, in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay.

USA Rhode Island - Narragansett Bay (Imago/Bluegreen Pictures/O. v. d. Wal)

Narragansett Bay is New England's largest estuary. Scientists say it's being hit by climate change

On Sunday, the director of the EPA's Atlantic Ecology Division, Wayne Munns, called organizers of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP) and informed them the agency's scientists would not speak at the meeting.

Munns did not provide any explanation as to why the talk was canceled, Judith Swift, chair of the NBEP's steering committee, told DW.

Swift said the decision came as a surprise, since the agency helps fund the NBEP to protect and restore bays and estuaries. She fears the EPA will prevent government scientists from speaking or conducting research on climate change.

"Dismissing the world of climate facts monitored and studied by professionals with years of study and who are under close scrutiny by the scientific community is woefully misleading at best, and scandalously dangerous at worst. We are now at worst," Swift said. 

Climate scientist John King, chair of the NBEP science advisory committee, believes the EPA is testing the water and could censor more of its scientists in the future.

"I think that if the reaction to this incident is not very strong and negative, then it will become a strategy," King told DW.

Climate data deleted

Critics see pulling the talk as the latest move by the US environment agency to downplay the threat of manmade climate change, and have accused it of showing a growing disregard for science.

Since Pruitt took charge, the agency has rebranded its website and deleted pages focusing on climate change – confirming the fears of scientists and activists who saved government climate data onto independent servers ahead of Trump's inauguration in January.

The EPA's website overhaul began in April. Last week, it republished online information on energy-related policy for state and local governments, deleting a dozen pages on how they can help curb CO2 emissions and adapt to extreme weather.

USA Scott Pruitt - Chef der amerikanischen Umweltschutzbehörde (Reuters/J. Roberts)

In his former role as Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt helped sue the EPA over a dozen times

According to a monitoring report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, 15 mentions of "climate change" have been removed from the main page. And significant amounts of material about global warming have been archived or, in some cases, lead to dead or circuitous links, making it difficult for the public to access scientific data.

Wiggin from the University of Pennsylvania worked with the Data Refuge project to copy thousands of webpages before Trump's inauguration. She said the destruction of information is "horrifying" but not surprising. Forbidding government scientists from participating in conferences takes things to another level, she stressed.

Reversing climate regulations

Pruitt's attack on climate action goes beyond controlling information on global warming. Under his leadership, the EPA has moved to undo dozens of climate regulations.  

On October 16, the agency ended a so-called "sue and settle" practice, which several environmental organizations had used to sue the EPA for not fulfilling its legal obligations under the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. The resulting settlements drove recent clean air regulations.

And earlier this month, Pruitt announced the end of the Clean Power Plan that restricted carbon emissions from power plants.  

Former US president Barack Obama passed the plan in 2015 to reduce emissions from the US electricity industry by 32 percent compared to 2005, by 2030. It was the first federal effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, which are responsible for nearly 40 percent of US carbon emissions. 

Pruitt called the Clean Power Plan a "war on coal" and said it exceeded the EPA's legal authority by setting emissions limits that power plants could not reasonably keep within.

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