Dec. 20, 2016 – The nation’s natural and cultural resources are under threat from the anti-science sentiment held by President-elect Trump and his increasingly alarming cabinet nominations.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) and many of its agencies — including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey — rely on scientific discourse to inform strategies for managing more than 500 million acres of public lands, including our national parks and wildlife refuges.
Unfortunately, the next administration has signaled it may launch a war on science, using politicized attacks to undermine the DOI’s scientific integrity. To fulfill its role as steward of our public lands, it is imperative that our nation’s scientists and park rangers are able to continue their scientific monitoring and execute science-based management plans.
Since the election of Donald Trump, scientists have expressed a growing fear of political aggression and persecution. These fears are not fantasy. The Trump transition team recently issued a questionnaire asking the Department of Energy to identify employees and contractors that worked on climate change efforts over the last five years. The questionnaire also requested information on which programs were “essential” to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
This apparent witch hunt was met with justified defiance by the department, which refused to disclose the names of employees working on climate change. Trump’s team later disavowed the questionnaire, saying that it “was not authorized or part of our standard protocol.”
Fearing that the upcoming administration could eliminate decades of research, scientists took actions to copy and backup government climate data onto independent servers. One of Trump’s advisors also suggested that NASA should no longer conduct climate research.
The Obama administration has voiced a growing concern over these threats.
In an address last week to the American Geophysical Union — the largest gathering of Earth scientists in the world — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that researchers must “fight disinformation.” She continued, “I encourage people to speak up and to talk about the importance of scientific integrity, and if they see that being undermined to say something about it.”
Last week, Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor reminded the agency’s staff of its strong scientific integrity policy and its whistleblower protections. According to E&E News, Connor said, “By providing guiding principles and clear expectations for conducting good science, the subject policy creates an enduring culture of sound scientific investigation.”
President-elect Trump has denied that climate change is real, and his choices to lead the four agencies that shape America’s energy and climate policy are consistent with his anti-science views.
Earlier this month, Scott Pruitt was nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency — the agency he spent much of his career fighting as Oklahoma attorney general. Pruitt is a climate change denier; The New York Times called his selection “a poke in the eye to a long history of bipartisan cooperation on environmental issues.” Rick Perry, the President-elect’s choice to head the Energy Department and avid climate change denier, once vowed to kill the agency he may be leading, although he was unable to remember the name of the agency during a presidential debate. To top it off, President-elect Trump’s pick for the State Department, Rex Tillerson, is the chief executive of Exxon Mobil.
Last week, President-elect Trump chose Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. When it comes to climate change, the congressman has tried to have it both ways, saying, “It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.”
This anti-science sentiment could have lasting impacts on our public lands and national parks if scientific research and information are thrown in the trash. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis called climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks.” To monitor our public lands, the agency has established programs such as the Climate Change Response Program, which are critical to the future health of our parks.
The next Interior Secretary must ensure scientific integrity among the civil servants who work for the DOI, including climate research. It will be incumbent on Ryan Zinke to be the bridge between America’s scientists and Donald Trump, so our public lands can be properly protected for future generations.
This article first appeared on Medium: https://medium.com/westwise/the-obama-administration-tries-to-guarantee-scientific-integrity-as-trumps-war-on-science-begins-a0be6d038f3c#.bqgs6obh7
The Center for Western Priorities is a nonpartisan conservation and advocacy organization that serves as a source of accurate information, promotes responsible policies and practices, and ensures accountability at all levels to protect land, water, and communities in the American West. www.westernpriorities.org