Overlooked in the furor over U.S. President Donald Trump’s disbanding of advisory groups on business and the arts—after his remarks on white supremacist racism sparked an exodus of their members—his administration also shut down a third committee that was arguably more important, and whose members were keen to stay on. That committee advised the government on climate.
The federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment was established two years ago. Its 15 members were appointed just last summer to “help policy-makers and private sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning,” the Washington Post reports. But on Friday, “the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the committee’s chair that the agency would not renew the panel.”
The move raises fresh questions over the credibility and future of the United States’ National Climate Assessment. Mandated in 1990 under Republican President George H.W. Bush to be conducted every four years, the broad-spectrum assessment of the science, observations, and forecast implications of climate change for the country has in fact only been published three times. The next edition is due in 2018. The disbanded advisory committee had been “established to help translate [its] findings into concrete guidance for both public and private sector officials. Its members have been writing a report to inform federal officials on the data sets and approaches that would best be included.”
The group’s dismissal raises fears that the Trump administration could delay, cancel, or materially alter the impending national assessment report before it is released. The Post notes that the action moves the administration “in the opposite direction” from the desire of “many state and local officials for more concrete guidance on how to factor climate change into future infrastructure.”
Committee chair and University of Maryland geographer Richard Moss said he and his colleagues intend to complete their planned work, even if it now lacks the government’s backing or endorsement. “It won’t have the same weight as if we were issuing it as a federal advisory committee,” Moss laments, adding in an understatement that the administration’s call “doesn’t seem to be the best course of action.”
By leaving businesses, state, and local authorities in the dark about the future course of climate change, the United States is “going to be running huge risks here, and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects,” Moss underscored.
For his part, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told the Post the move was another “example of the president stepping away from reality.”
Although the mandated assessments of the U.S. climate may not have kept pace with their intended frequency, they still outstrip Canada’s efforts to track even more rapid changes in climate conditions over a much larger geography, as the Pembina Institute recently noted.
Meanwhile the administration’s attacks on environmental awareness continued on Monday, E&E News [subs req’d] reported, when “the Interior Department ordered the National Academy of Sciences to stop studying the health effects of mountaintop coal mining on local residents.”