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Trump chokes information flow from EPA, DOI, and USDA

  • The Trump administration ordered a ‘media blackout’ at the EPA on Tuesday, restricting the flow of information to the public and the media.
  • Similar orders, which have reportedly since been rescinded, were circulated at the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Separately, an upcoming ‘March for Science’ will highlight the need to accept climate change as fact and encourage the unrestricted movement of information from scientists to the public.

In a week of sweeping executive actions related to the environment, President Donald J. Trump and his administration moved to seal off the public’s connection with several key government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Trump administration ordered a “media blackout” at the EPA and suspended the awarding of new grants and contracts. According to the AP, the blackout order prohibits blog posts, social media posts, and press releases, and is “expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.” It also prohibits spokespeople of the EPA from speaking with the press, though some have continued to do so anonymously.

The most recent tweet currently posted on the EPA’s Twitter page is from Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) was asked almost immediately after Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration to suspend social media activity, including use of Twitter. The DOI is a cabinet-level federal agency that oversees the natural and cultural resources of the United States. It has 70,000 employees, 280,000 volunteers, 2,400 operating locations, and nine bureaus, and it oversees the National Park Service.

Earlier in the week, several climate change-related tweets were removed from the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, but not before accurate information about increases in the amount of carbon in the air and ocean acidity was shared thousands of times through social media.

As of early Wednesday morning in the U.S., new tweets with climate-related facts were still appearing on the park’s feed. Other national parks, such as Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, also continue to share similar information via their official Twitter pages.

On Tuesday, Trump signed two executive orders allowing negotiations for the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access crude oil pipelines to move forward. The Obama administration had opposed both projects, instead focusing on encouraging investments in renewable energy, not fossil fuel infrastructure, to combat climate change.

Any further release of “public-facing documents” from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service was also halted by a memorandum on Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported on Tuesday. Later in the day, the AP said that the acting deputy secretary Michael Young requested that the memo be rescinded.

In a statement released to several news outlets, Christopher Bentley, a spokesperson for the Agricultural Research Service, said the agency “values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”

In an article posted by Reuters Wednesday morning, the news agency said that the USDA has issued new instructions to its employees regarding information sharing. Reuters journalists also write that, while a similar memo with directions for activity during the interim period was issued when former President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the most recent memo differed from past orders.

Oil extracted from Alberta’s Tar Sands (pictured here in 2008) would be transported to the U.S.’s Gulf Coast in part by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Howl Arts Collective/Wikimedia Commons

It included the stipulation that employees “review their websites, blog posts and other social media and, consistent with direction you will receive from the Office of Communication, remove references to policy priorities and initiatives of the previous Administration.”

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service employs scientists engaged in research on crop and livestock production, nutrition, and the interface between agriculture and the environment, including the effects of climate change.

Trump told the heads of U.S. automakers that he is “an environmentalist” Tuesday. But in a 2012 tweet, he claimed that the Chinese promoted the idea of climate change to gain traction in the international manufacturing sector.

Before the Trump administration’s raft of edicts impacting the environment, a push for a March for Science in Washington, D.C., began on Saturday. Its webpage argues for the acceptance of scientific facts, including the warming of Earth’s climate and the validity of evolution. The organizers have not yet set a date for the march.

They write that they aim to send a message to policy makers, detailed in a post on the website: “Slashing funding and restricting scientists from communicating their findings (from tax-funded research!) with the public is absurd and cannot be allowed to stand as policy. This is a non-partisan issue that reaches far beyond people in the [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields and should concern anyone who believes in empirical research and science.”

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