Trump administration imposes gag order on federal scientists

BuzzFeed reports: The US Department of Agriculture has banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing everything from the summaries of scientific papers to USDA-branded tweets as it starts to adjust to life under the Trump administration, BuzzFeed News has learned.

According to an email sent Monday morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, the department told staff — including some 2,000 scientists — at the agency’s main in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.

“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with BuzzFeed News.

“This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content,” she added. [Continue reading…]

Huffington Post reports: The Environmental Protection Agency has frozen its grant programs, according to sources there.

EPA staff has been instructed to freeze all its grants ― an extensive program that includes funding for research, redevelopment of former industrial sites, air quality monitoring and education, among other things ― and told not to discuss this order with anyone outside the agency, according to a Hill source with knowledge of the situation.

An EPA staffer provided the information to the congressional office anonymously, fearing retaliation. [Continue reading…]

Mashable reports: The communications ban directly contradicts scientific integrity policies at each agency that highlight the importance of communication between the public and agencies that are spending tax dollars to conduct government research.

The opening paragraph of the EPA’s integrity policy says it is designed to “promote scientific and ethical standards,” including “communications with the public.” It goes on to add that the policy “prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.” [Continue reading…]

Scientific American reports: The administration’s latest actions resemble steps taken in Canada by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper while in office from 2006 to 2015; his administration blocked government scientists from speaking with media and explaining their research. Several weeks before Trump’s inauguration, Canadian scientists interviewed by Scientific American warned their U.S. counterparts about the threat of similar restrictions.

“There was a feeling that the government was not interested in expert opinion, and I think it’s the same kind of thing that you are probably going to see with the new [Trump] administration” in the U.S., David Tarasick, a senior research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada (the equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), said last month. Harper’s move drove some Canadian scientists to leave the country to pursue their research. After Harper was voted out Canadian federal scientists last year worked with their union to ensure their contracts would enshrine their ability to speak with the media and the public about their work. [Continue reading…]

Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists writes: Clean air and clean water are not just “nice to have.”

Pollutants like smog, ozone, and mercury contribute to worsening asthma attacks (especially in young children), heart and lung ailments, and even premature death. What’s more, pollution imposes billions of dollars in costs to the economy in terms of hospital and other health costs, lost work days, lost school days, and other burdens, in addition to pain and suffering.

The EPA was established nearly 50 years ago, under President Nixon, with a mission to protect human health and the environment. Since then, across Republican and Democratic administrations, it has played an important role in responding to environmental disasters, from the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident to the catastrophic 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee.

Equally important, the EPA has worked to implement major environmental laws passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which have helped to significantly to drive down harmful pollution and improve the health of Americans.

We need only look to the air quality in Beijing or New Delhi to understand where our country would be without these fundamental protections. Americans need and depend on the EPA to be our watchdog and guardian. [Continue reading…]

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