So far, Donald Trump’s ban on EPA employees speaking to the media is off to a rocky start – two of the agency’s staffers have already anonymously spoken to Reuters news agency this week to sound the alarm about the incoming President’s continuing efforts to suppress climate science. According to these EPA employees, the agency’s communications team was instructed to remove their website’s climate change page, which included data on emissions and links to global warming research. However, as soon as the news began to spread across the web, the Trump administration appeared to soften its stance.
Now, rather than a purge of climate data, administration officials are framing the order as an “editorial review” of the site’s content. Doug Ericksen, the spokesman for Trump’s team in charge of the agency, told The Hill that the administration doesn’t intend to take down online climate data, and is merely “scrubbing it up a bit, putting a little freshener on it, and getting it back up to the public.” Exactly what that means and what kind of slant the administration wants to put on the data is unclear.
Given Trump’s current efforts to clamp down on the EPA’s ability to communicate about government research, it’s easy to see how some might not find this explanation especially reassuring. In a separate interview with NPR, Ericksen told the outlet that EPA scientists will have their work reviewed on a “case by case” basis before any of it can be shared with the public.
Reportedly, EPA employees have been working around the clock to download everything on the agency’s website and preserve everything on physical media, just in case Trump follows through on his threats to completely wipe the data from the web. There have also been a number of independent efforts since the election to download and mirror as much federal research data as possible, to protect it from disappearing under Trump’s orders.
This isn’t the administration’s first attempt to backpedal and explain away suspicious-looking orders. Back in December, Trump’s transition team sent a questionnaire to Energy Department officials, asking them to name employees and contractors who had been involved in discussions on climate change.
After Department leaders refused to name anyone, the Trump team disavowed the request, saying it was “not authorized.” Given the sheer number of attempts to suppress government employees who might speak to the public about climate change, it’s hard to imagine any of these news reports are actually innocent slip-ups or misunderstandings.
If the EPA is forced to alter its website or take down climate change information completely, it won’t be the first government website to do so. On inauguration day, the official White House website was scrubbed of all climate change information within minutes of Trump taking office.