In an edict issued earlier this week, the Trump Administration has frozen all grants at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and forbidden staff to talk about it.
The freeze covers “an extensive program that includes funding for research, redevelopment of former industrial sites, air quality monitoring, and education, among other things,” The Huffington Post reports. “An EPA staffer provided the information to [a] congressional office anonymously, fearing retaliation.”
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There was no immediate clarity on whether the freeze was temporary or permanent or how it would affect specific EPA programs across the U.S., and neither the Trump transition team nor the EPA press office was returning HuffPo’s calls Monday. But “I will say it’s pretty unusual for us to get these kinds of anonymous contacts from people at the agency, which makes me think it’s unusual,” a Capitol Hill source told reporter Kate Sheppard.
“The Huffington Post also received a message that was reportedly sent to staff Monday that seems to cover the current agency guidance on talking to the press in general, not just about the directive on grants,” Sheppard writes. “The memo states that the agency is imposing tight controls on external communication, including press releases, blog posts, social media, and content on the agency website.”
“These actions don’t just threaten scientists—they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water, and eats food,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “These agency scientists carry out research in support of policies that protect our health and safety and help farmers, and it makes no sense to put up walls between them and the public, or unilaterally halt the work they do.”
Rosenberg added that “if you care about clean air, clean water, and policies that actually protect people, you need the best independent science—and actions like this make it harder for Americans to benefit from science. That the administration has moved so quickly to clamp down on scientists shows that the Trump administration is more focused on lifting rules on polluters than keeping our air and water clean.”
Also this week, claiming a right to what senior White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway calls “alternative facts,” the new U.S. administration signalled its intention to have several key agencies “reform” the way they use science—or possibly stop doing science at all.
First, the incoming Trump team stripped all mention of climate change from the White House website and called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to focus instead on clean air and water. Now, the Independent reports that “a new document from inside the Trump camp” written by Myron Ebell, the president’s EPA transition lead, indicates that “the administration will seek to ‘reform’ how the agency uses information.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how the EPA, which has historically based all its policies on scientific foundations, should change its approach. However, it was evident that the document disagrees sharply with the agency’s reliance on empirical evidence. “Unless major reforms of the agency’s use of science and economics are achieved, EPA will be able to return to its bad old ways as soon as an establishment administration takes office,” it argues.
The outgoing Obama administration sought in its dying days to install some firewalls against just such a purge of government science, Hakai magazine reports, in an account of lessons being drawn from the recent suppression of science in Canada under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With days left in his mandate, Obama’s Department of Energy (DOE) revised its scientific integrity policy to state that “all scientists, engineers, or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views.”