White House considered political attacks on federal climate scientists

Major scientific research journals are not renowned for taking political stands. So add that to the list of norms being trampled in the Trump era, because this week Nature has published a broadside against this administration's Environmental Protection Agency, for attempting to sever the best available science from the regulation of air and water pollution.

The piece's author, Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes, is the co-author of "Merchants of Doubt," which documents the interconnections between decades of industry-backed campaigns to discredit commercially inconvenient scientific findings.

The latest fight is taking place right inside the EPA, where agency chief Scott Pruitt has proposed that for any study that EPA uses to inform regulations, the raw data that researchers gathered be made available to the public, so the findings can be checked and reproduced.

This "transparency" rule ignores the peer-review process that such research undergoes; and seems to imply that researchers are deviously hiding something if they don't make data available. (Personal and medical data provided by study participants are confidential by law.)

"There is a crisis in U.S. science, but it is not the one claimed by advocates for the rule," says Oreskes. "The crisis is the attempt to discredit scientific findings that threaten powerful corporate interests. The EPA is following a pattern that I and others have documented in regard to tobacco smoke, pollution, climate, and more. One tactic exploits the idea of scientific uncertainty to imply there is no scientific consensus. Another, seen in the latest efforts, insinuates that relevant research might be flawed. To add insult to injury, those using these tactics claim to be defending science."

Further, key studies proving the need for stricter air pollution controls, for example, were done three to four decades ago, led by researchers who have since retired or died. The raw data that inform their findings may no longer exist. 

So this proposed rule would not improve the science, or make the rule-making process more efficient or effective. It would simply provide the Trump administration a means to sever pollution rules from the groundbreaking studies that proved we need them. And with no proof, there will be no reason not to roll back regulations.

As Oreskes notes in Nature, there's a public comment period open on this proposal to change how the EPA uses science, and it closes on May 30.

There are 543 comments already submitted as I finish typing up this edition of (de)regulation nation.  Add your own by clicking here.


bad: White House weighed how to politically discredit federal climate scientists, findings

  • President Trump and many of his officials have refused to accept the vast amount of scientific evidence that climate change is underway, caused by human activities, and a really dangerous problem.

  • Now we've learned that last year, White House staff debated internally whether the administration ought to "ignore" climate-related reports issued by federal government researchers, or make one or more visible efforts to "highlight uncertainties in climate science," and undercut the public's trust in those findings.

  • The administration never chose a strategy, but in practice it consistently ignores federal agency studies on the dangers of climate change.

  • Trump's hostility to climate facts seems to have affected how some agencies deal with the topic: In January, the Pentagon delivered a report to Congress that "de-emphasized the threats climate change poses to military bases and installations."

  • There were 23 mentions of climate change in a 2016 draft of the report; just one remained by January 2018. 

  • Read more:

also bad: National Democrats lose the climate thread as they gripe about the price of gas

  • Congressional Democrats are gearing up to attack the Trump administration over rising gasoline prices.

  • Dem lawmakers will tell us to "thank the GOP for the price hike" on auto fuel, "and every big oil company executive cashing their paycheck can thank the GOP for the tax break."

  • The Democrats tout themselves as the grown-ups in the room when it comes to taking climate change as seriously as it needs to be taken.

  • But arguing for cheap auto fuel takes them back to the playpen, since transportation is now the USA's leading source of greenhouse gas pollution.

  • Individual presidents don't have much control over the price of gas. But that never stops the opposing party from using it to attack a sitting president ahead of the summer travel season.

  • Read more: 

good: National Parks Service finally releases, unadulterated, an important climate change report 

  • On May 18 the National Park Service posted its assessment of the climate-change-related risks to 118 coastal parks.

  • The parks' natural and historic resources are threatened by rising seas and more destructive coastal storms.

  • An earlier draft leaked to reporters "showed park service officials had deleted every mention of humans causing climate change."

  • Agency officials pressured the report's lead author, Park Service researcher Maria Caffrey, to allow the deletions, or see the report published with no credit to her.

  • "The fight probably destroyed my career with the (National Park Service) but it will be worth it if we can uphold the truth and ensure that scientific integrity of other scientists won’t be challenged so easily in the future,” Caffrey told a reporter.

  • Read more at Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, which broke the story.

great: New York kicks off major energy efficiency plan