Environmental Protection Agency spokesman says employees are anxious after Trump team placed a hold on the release of work and edited website
January 26, 2017 — Fears that Donald Trump’s presidency will suppress climate science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are causing widespread unease, with a spokesman for the administration admitting staff are experiencing “tension and stress” over the transition.
According to the Associated Press, Trump’s team has placed a “temporary hold” on the release of work by EPA scientists, pending review by political appointees. The report sparked outrage among climate activists and some scientists who claimed climate science was in danger of being distorted by the new administration.
The administration was also reportedly poised to remove all mentions of climate change from the EPA website, only to back away from the idea. The White House website has already had all of its climate sections excised.
Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s EPA transition team, told the Guardian no decisions had yet been made and a “misunderstanding” had occurred with the media.
“We are refreshing the existing web page,” he said. “Any time there’s a change in administration you will see a refresh and a review and that’s all we are doing. Next week or the week after the website will look different. But the EPA will stay focused on fact-based science.
“We have employees speaking to the media creating a false impression of what’s occurring, causing a lot of tension and stress for staff at the EPA as well as the states and regions. That’s unfortunate.”
Ericksen would not comment on whether climate content could be removed in the future, merely restating that a review was under way. The EPA, which regulates clean air and water, displays on its site in-depth information on the basics of climate science, actions the agency is taking to reduce emissions and data showing US emissions over the years.
The Trump administration has removed an EPA webpage entitled “Climate change facts: answers to common questions” but has not taken down any other climate-related content. Staff have been told not to speak to the media and the main EPA Twitter account has not posted anything since last Thursday, the day before Trump’s inauguration.
EPA employees have privately expressed concerns over their jobs and censorship of their work, although the Guardian could not confirm claims that political vetting of science was now official doctrine.
“They don’t know what they are doing yet,” said one administration staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They keep going back on themselves.”
Uncertainty over the EPA’s prospects, and Trump’s well-known disdain for mainstream climate science, has set off a “series of alarm bells” within the agency, said Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union.
“We’ve seen a pattern starting from the campaign, when … Trump questioned whether climate change is real or a hoax and then there was the letter sent to the Department of Energy asking for details on climate scientists,” she said.
“There is a fear in the entire US science community and, frankly, internationally too. People fear retribution over their work. There’s a feeling that climate scientists are being targeted. Scientists are also hearing that budget cuts will be quite severe.”
McEntee said she would like to see a “strong statement from the administration” that it upholds scientific integrity policies drawn up under Barack Obama. EPA policy states that scientists should be able to freely communicate their research without political distortion.
EPA grants were also frozen by the new administration but Ericksen said that $3.8bn in grants was released by late Wednesday, with no holdup of funds for projects such as the effort to restore clean water to Flint, Michigan.