WASHINGTON >> Nearly a year into the Trump administration, mentions of climate change have been systematically removed, altered or played down on websites across the federal government, according to a report made public today.
The findings of the report, by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, an international coalition of researchers and activist groups, are in keeping with the policies of a president who has proudly pursued an agenda of repealing environmental regulations, opening protected lands and waters to oil and gas drilling, withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, shrinking the boundaries of federal monuments, and appointing top officials who have questioned or denied the established science of human-caused climate change.
The authors of the study said that the removal of the words “climate change” from government websites, and a widespread effort to delete or bury information on climate change programs, would quite likely have a detrimental impact.
“We have found significant loss of public access to information about climate change,” the authors wrote.
“Why are these federal agencies putting so much effort into ‘science cleansing’ instead of using time and resources to fulfill agency responsibilities, such as protecting the environment and advancing energy security?” they wrote. “Removing information regarding climate change from federal websites does not affect the reality of climate change, but may serve to obfuscate the subject and inject doubt regarding the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity.”
The report tracks the Environmental Protection Agency’s removal of hundreds of websites connected to state and local climate change programs; the removal of information about international climate change programs from the State Department, Energy Department and EPA websites; and the deletion of the words “climate change” from websites throughout the federal government.
In many cases, the report found, “climate change” was replaced by vaguer terms such as “sustainability.”
In a separate report, also made public today, the group found that the Bureau of Land Management had deleted its climate change website and removed text about the importance of climate change mitigation from its main site.
The researchers took care to note that raw government data on climate change, such as historical records of temperatures and emissions levels, had not been deleted. However, Toly Rinberg, a co-author of the report, said: “The data is certainly less accessible. Links to websites that host the data have been removed. That data is still available online but it’s been made harder to find on the agency’s websites.”
Trump administration officials have noted that it is the administration’s prerogative to highlight its agenda — repealing climate change policies and promoting the exploration of oil, gas and coal — on its websites. The Obama administration sought to promote climate change policies and elevate the issue in the public eye, but the Trump administration is under no obligation to continue that effort.
And some information about government programs related to climate change, while no longer easily found on the main federal agencies’ websites, was still accessible. Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said in an email that pages were “archived and available” on the agency’s website.
But the report concluded that of all federal agencies, the EPA — the agency charged with protecting the nation’s environment and public health — had removed the most information about climate change. An EPA website once titled “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments,” which included prominent links to programs like “Climate Showcase Communities,” now contains no mention of the term “climate change” and no prominent links to state and local climate information.
The EPA has also removed a website on the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulation, which was designed to reduce planet-warming pollution from power plants. The Trump administration has put forth a legal plan to repeal that regulation, and part of that process includes a public comment period. The new report suggests that when people cannot easily find the original rule on the EPA’s website, they may be less likely to submit comments against repealing it.
“Beyond reducing access to actionable information, removing public web resources can undermine democratic institutions such as notice-and-comment rule-making,” the report’s authors wrote.