Trump administration scrubs climate science pages from EPA website

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Washington, April 29, 2017 | comments
Mark Hand

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening, only hours before climate marchers would be filling the streets of Washington, D.C., that it plans to make changes to its website to reflect the views of the Trump administration and agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The website changes will involve “updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership,” the EPA said in a news release. The initial changes will reflect President Donald Trump’s views on “climate and regulation” and the administration’s opposition to the Clean Power Plan, a Obama-era rule designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

The agency’s pages relating to climate change, climate science, and the impacts of climate change have been removed from the live site, each replaced with a banner headline saying “this page is being updated.”

“We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law,” J.P. Freire, the EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs, said in the news release.

The EPA said the changes will comply with legal guidance, including the use of proper archiving procedures. A screenshot of the last administration’s website will remain available from the main page, the agency said.

One of those archived pages on climate change from the Obama administration notes that “research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.”

In March, Pruitt told CNBC that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” At the time, information still housed on the EPA’s website contradicted Pruitt’s statements on climate change.

Under President George W. Bush, updates to the site were frozen and then required to undergo White House review but ultimately did not lead to substantive changes to scientific content, the Washington Post reported Friday.

On Thursday, members of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition denounced the Trump administration’s views on climate change at a Capitol Hill rally to welcome climate marchers to Washington. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA), co-chair of the coalition, said the first 100 days of the new administration have been “a catastrophic step-back with respect to the environment.”

The American people are seeing a “denial of science” from the Trump administration and cases of censorship where “certain phrases and words cannot be used in research or in government documents with respect to the Paris agreement or climate change or greenhouse gases,” Connolly said. “This is Stalin science,” the lawmaker added, referring to a program during Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s rule where more than 3,000 scientists were persecuted as part of a campaign to suppress his scientific opponents.

In February, scientists and agency employees grew worried about how information and data would be handled. At the time, though, the Trump administration walked back news that it was planning to entirely remove the EPA’s website on climate change. But some website changes were made to start off the administration, including mention of carbon pollution as a cause of climate change. More emphasis was given to adaptation than mitigation, signaling the administration’s inclination to separate the cause of climate change from the responses to the problem.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend Saturday’s climate march in Washington. Some commentators have said the Trump administration has been a “blessing” for the climate movement in how its anti-environment policies are boosting the movement’s numbers.

“Consider what’s going on at the Environmental Protection Agency under Scott Pruitt. The EPA has had plenty of other administrators who were sympathetic to the fossil-fuel industry, but Pruitt has all but admitted that his goal is to destroy the agency that is charged with protecting clean water and air,” long-time climate and environment reporter Jeff Goodell wrote in an article posted Friday on Rolling Stone’s website.
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