Trump Muzzles Scientists, Elon Musk Shills for Former ExxonMobil CEO

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

The muzzling of government scientists and agencies  that people warned about [see: Harper, Trump & Science a la Carte: A Warning From Canada] has begun under the Trump Administration.

Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have seen directives from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate to the public, according to multiple sources.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

All of the agencies affected by the actions have some input on issues related to the environment and have been involved in various efforts related to climate change, including effects on natural resources and human health.

On Tuesday, a source at the EPA said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named.

I think it’s only a matter of time before we seen similar restrictions imposed upon NASA, NOAA and the Department of Energy. All three agencies are involved in climate change research.

Meanwhile, the Badlands National Park Twitter account posted and then deleted a series of tweets about global warming today. The National Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior.

[UPDATE: The National Park Service has issued a statement saying the Badlands Tweets were done by a former employee who was not authorized to access the account. The Park Service says it removed the Tweets on its own accord and not on orders by the Trump Administration. However, the Administration’s broader crackdown has spurred the creation of a number of unofficial Alt and Rogue Twitter accounts about the Park Service, NASA and other government agencies.]

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued the following statement.

“These actions don’t just threaten scientists—they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water and eats food. These agency scientists carry out research in support of policies that protect our health and safety and help farmers, and it makes no sense to put up walls between them and the public, or unilaterally halt the work they do.

“Both the EPA and the USDA have developed scientific integrity policies that, among other things, protect scientists’ right to speak out about their work. The American people deserve to know the results of taxpayer-funded research.

“Halting the EPA’s grants and contracts is equally short-sighted and destructive. As we saw in past government shutdowns, you can’t just turn scientific research on and off like a switch. We know that scientists can lose years of work, businesses can see investments lost and communities can be deprived of information they need to make good decisions. EPA grants and contracts include efforts like water safety testing and hazardous waste disposal—work that you can’t just walk away from without exposing communities to preventable risks.

“If you care about clean air, clean water and policies that actually protect people, you need the best independent science—a nd actions like this make it harder for Americans to benefit from science. That the administration has moved so quickly to clamp down on scientists shows that the Trump administration is more focused on lifting rules on polluters than keeping our air and water clean.

“The scientific community is ready to fight back against any efforts to marginalize or suppress science and undermine science-based policies and research people depend on. More than 5,500 scientists have come together to say that President Trump must respect the role of science. These actions are the clearest sign yet that he isn’t living up to that standard.”

Science is not a la carte. You can’t pick and choose what results to believe based on whether or not they comport with your politics. Gagging agencies and scientists doesn’t make their findings, or the problems they point to, suddenly go away. It simply postpones the reckoning.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk — electric car and solar power guy who believes global warming is a serious threat — has been publicly shilling for former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to become the next secretary of state.

Surprising? Not really. Musk has managed to work his way into Trump’s circle of economic advisors. My guess is staying there and wielding influence involves things like this. There’s nothing that Trump values more than loyalty. (Well, maybe there is one other thing….)

Fair enough. But, Tillerson also represents the nation’s oil interests. And he would be part of an administration that is gagging agencies and their scientists about the impacts of that industry. Trump is also focused on returning oil, gas and coal to their glory days.  (Suggested slogan: “Carbon today! Carbon tomorrow! Carbon forever!”)

But, Musk doesn’t acknowledge this reality, or the restrictions on the scientists and their agencies, or the administration’s intention to gut NASA Earth science, or roll back environmental regulations, or the claims that global warming is based on politicized science that should not be taken seriously. In short, he’s not looking at anything Trump has publicly said, done or promised to do.

Instead, Musk pins his hopes on a series of vague statements by Tillerson during his confirmation hearing.

A seat at what table? What actions should be taken? Are we now giving brownie points for acknowledging climate change exists? What the hell does any of that actually mean?

There already is a global response to climate change. It’s called the Paris Agreement. It has 194 signatories representing 125 parties. And Trump has promised to take the United States out of it.

All this reminds me of the time Lisa Simpson took a tour of a newspaper printing facility.

zero is a percent
Tillerson tries to sound reasonable on climate change, but when you get beneath the surface, Trump is doing the exact opposite.

UPDATE: Here’s the memo to EPA employees concerning communications.

There’s also this from Reuters: Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources

The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA’s communications team to remove the website’s climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.

UPDATE: Science Magazine reports the administration has backed away from those plans after the public uproar.