In a set of chilling memos, staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Agriculture were banned from all communications with the public this week. The memos forbid government scientists from speaking to reporters about their work, writing press releases, posting blog updates, or updating the agencies’ social media accounts. The EPA was also ordered to suspend all new business activities – including awarding any new contracts or grants.
Voices within Donald Trump’s administration claim that this is simply a temporary measure, aimed at bringing the agencies’ communications in line with the new administration’s priorities. But with no information flowing out of the EPA, state agencies are concerned that the media blackout and grant freeze will prevent them from carrying out critical work to protect clean drinking water, test schools for lead, and revitalize toxic waste sites.
Jeff Ruch, executive director for the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told the Boston Globe that these orders go far beyond those issued during previous presidential transitions.
Many fear that the gag order may be extended indefinitely, much like the years-long gag order placed on Canadian scientists under Stephen Harper’s administration. Though it’s been reversed by the country’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during the Harper years 37% of researchers were prevented from speaking to the public or media about their work, and 24% say they were directly asked to exclude or alter information. The policy caused Canadian media coverage of climate change to drop by 80% during those years, a terrifying prospect at a time when the planet is hitting record temperatures for the third year in a row.
It should go without saying that altering or suppressing scientific information to fit Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda could be devastating to our ability to understand and respond to climate change and natural disasters. In fact, as Mashable points out, the gag order goes against the agencies’ own ethics policies, which encourage employees to promote scientific standards and communicate with the public about their research. Perhaps that’s why, as soon as the recent memo was made public, the USDA disavowed the policy and reiterated its mission to make government science available to the public.
While this seems to be a positive development, environmentalists and anyone who values scientific accuracy should remain on guard. It’s clear that Trump and his cabinet have a vested interest in denying climate science and suppressing any information about it from reaching the public. Those wishing to take action to help defend government science in the US may want to check out the Scientists’ March on Washington that is currently in the planning stages.
Via The Boston Globe