How Trump Tramples Honest EPA Scientists with Harassment and Censorship
September 29, 2017 PBS News Hour & The Washington Post & Reuters & QZ.com & E&E News & The New York Times
The Interior Department's former top climate policy official has filed an official complaint charging the Trump administration is threatening public health and safety by trying to silence honest scientists. Meanwhile, Trump's EPA has chastised scientists who linked super-hurricanes to climate change, calling it "an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy." And the person who handles EPA grants is a political operative who has said he doesn't want to see the phrase "climate change" in grant applications.
Interior official turns whistleblower, claiming retaliation for climate work
PBS News Hour
From Top Climate Policy Official to Accounting:
Welcome to Trump's Department of Interior Joel Clement / The Washington Post Op-Ed
WASHINGTON, DC -- On July 19, the former top climate policy official at the Department of Interior filed a complaint and a whistleblower disclosure form with the Office of Special Counsel. The official, Joel Clement, says the Trump administration is threatening public health and safety by trying to silence scientists like him.
I'm a Scientist. I'm Blowing
The Whistle on the Trump Administration By Joel Clement / Environmental Protection Agency
I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.
I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.
Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I've helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments.
Citing a need to "improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration," the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.
I am not an accountant -- but you don't have to be one to see that the administration's excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn't add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.
I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a UN conference in June.
It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.
On Wednesday, I filed two forms -- a complaint and a disclosure of information -- with the US Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities.
I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he's not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean.
In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens' homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.
Alaska's elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back.
While I have given small amounts to Democratic candidates in the past, I have no problem whatsoever working for a Republican administration. I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies.
But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm's way isn't the president's right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.
Now that I have filed with the Office of Special Counsel, it is my hope that it will do a thorough investigation into the Interior Department's actions. Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful.
Let's be honest: The Trump administration didn't think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can't keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered.
Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the US Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department's Office of Natural Resources Revenue.
WASHINGTON (August 29, 2017) -- The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday rejected a contention by scientists that the historic rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey was linked to climate change, calling it "an attempt to politicize an ongoing tragedy."
Several scientists have said that factors related to global warming have contributed to increased rainfall from storms like Harvey, which struck the Texas coast as a major hurricane on Friday and has since triggered catastrophic flooding in Houston, killing at least 12 people and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
"EPA is focused on the safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and providing emergency response support - not engaging in attempts to politicize an ongoing tragedy," said EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman, responding to a question about comments from the climate scientists.
A White House official said: "Right now, the top priority of the federal government as we work together to support state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana is protecting the life and safety of those in impacted areas."
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about climate change and has announced he will pull out of a global pact to combat it. On Aug. 15, days before the Texas storm, he signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era rule requiring projects built in coastal floodplains that receive federal aid to account for the impacts of sea-level rise.
Climate scientists have said that coastal areas, which have seen a surge in population growth, can expect to grapple with more severe flooding as global temperatures rise.
"There is universal agreement" that global warming will boost rainfall during hurricanes because warmer air holds more moisture, increasing the risk of severe floods, said Kerry Emanuel, atmospheric science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"If you look at long-term effects of hurricanes on society, the impacts are more about water than wind," he said. "Harvey is an example of how vulnerable modern society is to rainstorms as the climate warms. It's solid physics," he said.
Emanuel and other scientists were careful to say that storms like Harvey were not caused directly by climate change.
"To sum things up: Storm Harvey was not caused by climate change, yet its impacts – the storm surge, and especially the extreme rainfall – very likely worsened due to human-caused global warming," said Stefan Rahmstorf at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The Official in Charge of Awarding EPA Science Grants
Doesn't Want to See the Words "Climate Change" Zoe Schlanger / QZ.com
(September 5, 2017) -- The person who makes the final decision on grant funding at the US Environmental Protection Agency agency is a political operative who doesn't want to see "the double C-word" -- climate change -- in grant applications, according to EPA staff who spoke with the Washington Post.
John Konkus is former aide to then-candidate Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Now, his official role is in the EPA's public affairs office, where he reviews each grant the EPA gives out, despite little environmental policy background. According to the Post, EPA staffers say that Konkus "repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the [climate change] in solicitations."
Former EPA officials who served under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush called the move unusual.
"We didn't do a political screening on every grant, because many of them were based on science, and political appointees don't have that kind of background," former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who served under Bush, told the Washington Post.
The report comes after a scientist from Northeastern University posted an email to Facebook in which a US Department of Energy staffer asked her to cut mentions of "climate change" and "global warming" from her grant application. (The Department of Energy denied having a systematic ban on "climate change," but did not specifically deny or confirm the validity of the email). Employees at the US Department of Agriculture have also been asked to avoid terms including "climate change" going forward, and replace them with less-specific terminology like "weather extremes." DOE Denies It Has Policy to Remove
'Climate Change' from Agency Materials Christa Marshall and Hannah Northey / E&E News
(August 25, 2017) -- The Department of Energy (DOE) denied today that it's banning the use of "climate change" in materials after a public letter alleged scientific censorship and sparked a Twitter storm.
Jennifer Bowen, an associate professor at Northeastern University in Boston, posted a letter on Facebook showing a DOE official asking her to remove the words "global warming" and "climate change" from her research proposal on nutrient loading in salt marsh carbon sequestration.
The DOE official, whose name is not shown, allegedly said the department wants the language scrapped to "meet the President's budget language restrictions."
"This just happened," Bowen wrote yesterday in a post alongside the letter. "I'm just going to leave that here for people to ponder." Bowen could not be reached directly for comment, but she and Northeastern University confirmed Friday afternoon that the letter was legitimate.
"Yes. I confirm the email is real. Although it should not be a "shocker." similar actions reported at Dept. of Ag," Bowen wrote on Twitter, linking to a report in The Guardian this month. The Department of Agriculture later denied telling employees to avoid use of the term climate change (ClimateWire, August 8)
Scientists said that Bowen is a well-respected biologist and that the referenced grant, which included detailed tracking numbers, appears legitimate.
DOE said this morning it could not verify the letter without more details on the sender, but strongly denied systematic censorship.
"There is no departmental-wide policy banning the term 'climate change' from being used in DOE materials. That is completely false," DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said.
The letter refers to the abstract of a grant proposal that originally included phrasing about salt marshes contributing to greenhouse gas release and climate change. According to the post, Bowen said she responded to the unnamed DOE official by excising the climate language. "I understand you are just doing your job, so I will refrain from comment," Bowen wrote.
The letter played into frustrations in the scientific community about Trump's climate and science policies. The administration has not yet appointed a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, prompting a wave of recent public letters from the scientific community.
The posting also triggered thousands of comments online ranging from sympathy with the DOE staff to questions about whether the letter amounted to censorship. Others weighed in with creative ways to reword climate change and global warming.
"Hey American Scientists. This should send a chill down your spine," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann tweeted.
Some DOE career staffers said the incident follows multiple cases of inappropriate line editing of scientific documents by political appointees without relevant training. Other DOE scientists at the national labs said they had not experienced similar censorship. One lab scientist expressed "shock" at the Bowen letter.
In January, then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz released a scientific integrity policy aiming to protect scientists from censorship (E&E News PM, Jan. 11).
Since then, the Trump administration has removed mentions of climate change and clean energy from websites and blocked scientists from attending conferences, said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The nonprofit recently started a "science protection project" to link federal scientists and their allies with attorneys to "help bring to light actions that diminish the role of independent science."
In June, DOE also shuttered its international climate office (E&E News PM, June 15).
Rosenberg said it would be "bizarre" if a DOE official asked to remove climate language specifically, particularly since the president's budget request has to go through Congress.
"It just seems really odd censorship," he said.
Reprinted from Greenwire from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net Coal Mining Health Study Is
Halted by Interior Department Lisa Friedman and Brad Plumer / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (August 21, 2017) -- The Interior Department has ordered a halt to a scientific study begun under President Obama of the public health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which was conducting the study, said in a statement Monday that they were ordered to stop work because the Interior Department is conducting an agencywide budgetary review.
Last year, West Virginia officials asked the Obama administration to look into the health effects of mountaintop mining, a technique used to extract underlying coal. As part of the practice, which dates to the 1960s, mining companies dump the rubble into the surrounding valleys and streams, in many cases leading to extensive pollution.
The National Academies assembled a 12-member expert committee to assess "new approaches to safeguard the health of residents" living near the mines. Environmental groups and Democrats sharply criticized the Interior Department decision.
"Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other medical problems," said Representative Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. "Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple."
Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said the decision to halt the study may have been justified.
"The National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences concluded in July that after examining available studies, it didn't see evidence justifying a health hazard, noting that no conclusive evidence connected mountaintop mining with health effects and that studies often failed to account for extraneous health and lifestyle effects," he said.
Researchers are still trying to get a handle on the health impacts for people living in nearby Appalachian communities, many of whom are poor and have other health problems.
Mountaintop removal, which has occurred on at least 500 Appalachian mountains, has clogged streams and waterways with heavy metals such as selenium and manganese, which can be toxic in high concentrations. The dust kicked up by these explosions is also considered a hazard.
One 2010 review published in Science found elevated mortality rates, as well as increased incidence of lung cancer and kidney disease, in counties near mountaintop mining. A 2011 study of central Appalachia found a higher rate of birth defects in the area.
The review by the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences, published earlier this year, noted that it can be difficult to control for variables like poverty, and called for more careful research to determine the precise consequences of the practice.
The $1 million National Academies study had begun last year and was expected to take two years to complete. Heather Swift, with the Interior Department, said the Trump administration is conducting a review of grants and cooperative agreements that cost more than $100,000 to ensure tax dollars are used effectively.
Jake Glance, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, said the state was not aware of the review. He added that the state will continue to provide information to the National Academies "if and when the study resumes."
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