Trump Slashes Science Budgets; EPA Vet Resigns in Dismay
August 16, 2017
Marla Cone / The Reveal & EcoWatch and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
The Trump administration has proposed a series of drastic cuts to science research at federal agencies across the US, with the Environmental Protection Agency slated to bear the brunt. A recent budget proposal aims to eliminate more than $30.6 billion (nearly 21 percent) of research and development funding in fiscal year 2018. Elizabeth Sutherland, a 30-year EPA senior official, has resigned, calling Trump's EPA appointee Scott Pruitt "the leading candidate for worst boss in the world."
(August 14, 2017) -- The Trump administration has proposed a series of drastic cuts to science research at federal agencies across the US, with the Environmental Protection Agency slated to bear the brunt.
A recent budget proposal aims to eliminate more than $30.6 billion (nearly 21 percent) of research and development funding in fiscal year 2018. It's a drastic decrease from what the Obama administration allotted in 2016.
Here's a sampling of what's on the chopping block:
* The EPA would lose nearly half its research funding: a total of $239 million intended for studies of air pollutants, water contaminants, drinking water safety and more.
* The Energy Department, meanwhile, would see a nearly 12 percent cut in funding, which would negatively affect studies on renewable energy.
* Cuts to the Department of Homeland Security would prevent the agency from examining ways to make airport screening protocols faster and less intrusive.
The two main winners in Trump's budget? The Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs, both of which would see double-digit science research increases under Trump's proposed plan.
This story is part of our ongoing (Un)Scientific Method series, in which we examine how anti-science attitudes have infiltrated government and politicized its decision-making.
The (Un)Scientific Method: Silencing Scientists
Marla Cone / The Reveal
(June 20, 2017) -- How did life begin? What's the cure for cancer? What causes Alzheimer's? Are we alone in the universe? When will we run out of water? Is our air safe to breathe? How much can we alter our environment and still survive?
Science cannot solve all of our mysteries. It is, after all, a human process – one often clouded in uncertainty. Yet science is more than a compilation of data and statistics. It is the pursuit of evidence-based answers to the questions that bedevil us, and even if we don't ever have clarity, this pursuit brings us knowledge, shining light on what we know as well as what we still need to figure out. Silencing scientists plunges us back into darkness.
Yet today an anti-science attitude has infiltrated many aspects of our government and politicized its decision-making. In my 35 years of covering these topics as a journalist, I have never encountered such extreme dismay and alarm from scientists about the threats they encounter while they seek answers to critical questions.
One longtime public health researcher said that scientists feel under siege from "industrial-scale doubt promulgators," extreme social media harassment and personal attacks.
"If you discover something important that requires an industry or industries to rethink their practices and products, you are guaranteed to invite a deluge of unwanted attention, and you will not have the resources to defend yourself," this university scientist told me. "It is hard to have optimism that any important discovery I might make and publish will have a positive influence on potential policy implications."
Defending science should not be a partisan issue. The gathering of evidence and the pursuit of truth should be at the core of every decision we make, every policy that is formulated, every effort to protect the health of people and the planet. Science will not always provide sensible solutions to the problems plaguing our world.
But at the very least, politicians and policymakers must understand the facts, the correlations, the relationships, the data, the laws of nature, before they act, rather than molding the facts to suit their personal convictions, ignoring the science if they disagree or even eliminating the pursuit of science.
Science should be the starting point for most every discussion we have.
With this in mind, understanding science is more important than ever. "Science literacy is the artery through which the solutions of tomorrow's problems flow," said astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson.
"We must take science out of the labs and journals," declared the scientists who championed the March for Science, "and share it with the world."
At Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, we share that common goal. We have assembled a team to reveal conflicts between science and government and investigate the politicization of decision-making and the misuse of science, which poses threats to our health, welfare and resources.
Ideas are welcome; please send them to me, Senior Editor Marla Cone, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
30-Year EPA Veteran Writes Farewell Letter,
Warns of Environmental Catastrophe Under Pruitt
EcoWatch and Trump Watch @ Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(August 2, 2017) -- A 30-year US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) senior official left federal service Tuesday convinced that her agency is being steered in a disastrously wrong direction, according to her farewell message posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). She is an eyewitness to the wreckage wreaked by Administrator Scott Pruitt and his cadre of political appointees.
Elizabeth "Betsy" Southerland has a Ph.D. in environmental science and engineering and has worked in both the private sector and state government. At EPA, she served in both the water and Superfund programs as a senior executive, managing first as a division director in both programs and then as the director of the Office of Science and Technology in the Office of Water. In 2015, she received the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award.
Her farewell message to her colleagues warned that Pruitt:
* Has "repeals of 30 rules under consideration," most of which aim at "industry deregulation" of an array of toxic substances and practices that can threaten human health;
* Seeks "abandonment of the polluter pays principal that underlies all environmental statutes"; and
* Is pursuing policies that promise to repeat human health and environmental catastrophes, such as Flint, Michigan's drinking water (http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/drinking-water) crisis.
Her letter concluded with this overall assessment:
"Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth. The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man's activities.
"It may take a few years and even an environmental disaster, but I am confident that Congress and the courts will eventually restore all the environmental protections repealed by this administration because the majority of the American people recognize that this protection of public health and safety is right and it is just."
"As is clear from Betsy's three-decade perspective, Scott Pruitt's pledge to restore 'EPA originalism' is nothing but a pernicious myth," stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that the first round of early retirements and buyouts are now being processed. "In Pruitt's EPA, it is hard to identify even a single action to better protect the environment."
One of the rollbacks cited by Southerland in her message is the steam electric rule requiring that "the highly toxic wastes of coal (http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/coal) fired electric plants be treated rather than poured untreated into large holding ponds where toxic chemicals seep into ground water and overflow into surface water, contaminating public water supplies and private wells and poisoning fish and wildlife (http://www.ecowatch.com/tag/wildlife)." This rule was promulgated following "the 70-mile long Duke Energy spill into the Dan River of North Carolina in 2014."
Compounding growing problems inside EPA is an autocratic and secretive Pruitt management style in which he declines to meet directly with non-political staff, refuses to use email so as to not create any record, and issues orders to create decision documents at odds with the overwhelming weight of evidence.
For example, he recently oversaw an unjustified retroactive rewrite of the cost-benefit study relating the Waters of the US Rule so as to make as much as a half billion dollars in benefits disappear from the analysis.
"Increasingly, principled professionals, who have proudly served administrations from both parties, are under orders to betray, rather than serve, the public interest by remaining at EPA," added Bennett, pointing to Pruitt's moves to cancel all employee health club benefits while traveling extensively back to Oklahoma constantly surrounded by a phalanx of armed security agents.
"In only a few months on the job, Scott Pruitt has become the leading candidate for worst boss in the world."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.