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How Does Your Whiteness Inform Your Climate Work? Fair Question.

This past weekend, I had the honor and challenge of presenting at the Fifth Annual Climate Conference of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). For the past three years, UCS has been proud to be one of the sponsors of this summit at Dillard University, in New Orleans, and we’re looking forward to continuing to support it in years to come.

For me personally, this year’s event took an important turn when a Howard University student stood up and posed a good, hard question: How does your whiteness inform your work on climate change?

An honor…

It’s an honor to speak to the HBCU Climate Conference.

Reverend Lennox Yearwood delivering a moving keynote address to the HBCU Climate Conference. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried

Its co-conveners are environmental justice luminaries, people you feel lucky to have met. Dr. Beverly Wright of Dillard University is founder and director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and a larger-than-life EJ scholar and voice. Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University is considered the father of environmental justice.

The conference’s speakers leave an imprint. Friday’s keynote speech, for example, was delivered by Reverend Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus, a star in the climate movement, and a source of inspiration since I first heard him speak back in February, 2013 at the DC rally against the Keystone Pipeline. (I was so happy, I told him, when he tweeted one of my blog posts earlier this year…)

And its participants—the students, experts and activists gathered—were energized as they discussed both their studies and their activism. As Dr. Bullard described the buses of HBCU students that would be heading north to DC for the April 29th People’s Climate March, I was inspired and hopeful for the climate movement taking shape.

And a challenge

And it was a challenge for two simple reasons.

First,“green groups” have historically had a poor reputation in this community. In addition to being overwhelmingly white, groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and UCS, among others, gained that reputation over many decades by, at best, not obviously caring about environmental justice concerns, and at worst, diverting attention from those concerns and exploiting them when advantageous.

Indeed, in his keynote address, Reverend Yearwood elicited strong, even angry agreement from the audience when he railed against these groups that, in essence, have not cared about them.

Second, I’m white. One of the many things that means is that the privileges I wear around—for much of my life, many of them unwittingly—are perfectly obvious in this setting. And it doesn’t really matter if I try to check my “invisible backpack” at the conference door; everyone knows I leave with it and that this sets me, maybe irrevocably, apart from the mostly African-American attendees. And that, if I’m totally honest, makes me uncomfortable.

Most participants at the HBCU gathering have had to become familiar with being one of just a few people of color in the crowd. The same isn’t true for most white folks; I get to be comfortable most anywhere I go.

As Reverend Yearwood spoke, however, I felt my whiteness more and more acutely. In his narrative, as a member of the environmental community I wasn’t necessarily the enemy of those gathered, but nor was I a friend. As African-American children grew up in the shadow of coal-fired power plants, breathing unhealthy air and developing childhood asthma, environmentalists from the big green groups showed up, he lamented, only when it was in their interest—e.g., as part of an effort to shut down a particular power plant.

As he spoke, I started scratching out and scribbling over my original opening remarks. I couldn’t, I realized, launch straight into our shared cause and mutual enemies in the climate fight. Before I could do anything close, I needed to make clear that at UCS we get it, or at least we’re really trying to; we’re here at this conference as part of ongoing efforts to right some past wrongs, and to support the growth and strength of the environmental justice movement on its own terms and turf.

UCS scientist Erika Spanger-Siegfried, "EJ coastal communities face special risks from flooding and rising tides" #HBCUClimateChange2017 pic.twitter.com/rIaS4Rk7qy

— Robert D. Bullard (@DrBobBullard) March 17, 2017

An excellent question

I was on an all-white panel. I gave my talk. The audience seemed engaged and people lined up to ask questions. The young woman from Howard University prefaced hers by saying “at Howard, we learn to ask the hard questions.” And she did.

Her question—how does my whiteness inform my work on climate change—was kind of the elephant in the room, she said. The whole conference was about how the participants’ blackness informed their work. What about my whiteness?

Indeed. Oddly, it was something of a relief to get this question. I had no immediate idea what to say. So I started with where I come from; with the fact that I grew up within half a mile of a coal-fired power plant; that I developed asthma as a child. I guess I was trying to say that what Rev. Yearwood was describing isn’t completely foreign to me. Or that my whiteness might mask relatable things about me or connote some privileges that I didn’t in fact have. I suppose I was just trying to humanize myself and be seen.

My parents were activists, I went on; my dad was a social justice organizer when I was small. Of the many issues we would talk about, the many things wrong in the world, climate change is the one I was drawn to. It felt like the mother of all problems; how could I not work on it?

After this, I said, is where my whiteness probably comes most into play.

I have worked on climate change for nearly 20 years. And for much of that time, I was troubled by, but didn’t engage with environmental justice issues in an active way. What would play in my head was something like: I’m a person who’s working hard on an important issue, I’m in the battle, trying to keep my head above water, and that’s enough. It’s not the only issue, I would say, but it’s a big one, and my work over here will have to do. I didn’t have to engage in environmental justice, personally, because my privileges sheltered me from most EJ concerns. And I didn’t engage in it professionally because, where I worked, we had different top priorities.

To change everything, we need everyone

What I’ve since come to see is this: that’s not how we win, any of us. There’s not my piece of the battle and your piece of the battle. There’s just the battle.

At this moment, here in 2017, many of us are losing our piece of the battle. And if we don’t join forces to win it, we’re all lost. And if we don’t come to the table with openness and willingness to engage with each other’s concerns, we won’t join forces.

I didn’t say this at the time, but I was reminded of the Peoples Climate March in New York City, back in 2014, where the motto was “to change everything, we need everyone.”And truly, it felt like everyone was there that day, marching down 6th Avenue. And as we looked around, we could feel it: this is what America looks like; this is how we change the world.

In New York City in September 2014, 400,000 people marched to demand climate action, showing the world – and ourselves – the diversity, size, and potential power of the climate movement. Photo: 2014.peoplesclimate.org

And outside of those high-profile times when we come together as a movement, we at UCS have a role to play as scientists and as allies.

Quite simply, ensuring that the concern of the Union of Concerned Scientists extends to equity and environmental  justice and that, in that spirit, we show up and contribute more—that is just the right thing to do.

Good climate allies: May we know them, may we be them

It’s just the past few years that I’ve come to see this clearly. It’s a journey and I’m still on it. But I understand now that we can’t be satisfied chipping away at our issues. We’ve got to look up, see the concerns of our allies, and find ways to show up for them.

Speakers had just a minute or so to respond, and so I left it there.

There’s more to it, of course. Like the fact that my whiteness afforded me the luxury of being out in nature a lot and, through this, delivered me to the problem of climate change through a very certain door—a different door than some in the EJ community.

Or the fact that, in this battle, some of us face much greater risks than others—the low-income neighborhood that doesn’t get rebuilt after a storm, the indigenous community whose ways of life are breaking down under climate stress, the urban residents who struggle to cope as heat waves worsen. For now, folks like me are sheltered from much of this. So folks like me need to recognize that, while what we bring to the table is valuable, others are the very face of climate change.

The movement we’re seeing take shape in response to climate change is growing, necessarily, to be about more than climate change. It’s also about climate justice and jobs and social equity and human rights. And it’s only because each of those additional concerns found a place at the table that, today, we have the climate movement that we so desperately need.

I’m hanging my hopes on this movement.

I may always be one of its more privileged members. I aim to always be a fierce and hard-working one and, increasingly, a good ally.

I’ll be at the March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice in Washington, DC, on April 29. There the Peoples Climate Movement will be in the streets in all its many-faceted glory (and I do mean glory; if you haven’t marched, join UCS and others and experience for yourself). And I’ll march like I work each day: for a stable climate, for my kids, and in solidarity with the millions of folks with whom I share this common, essential cause.

If I see the Howard student there, I will thank her for sparking the good conversations I’ve had since.

And to our blog readers, please ask UCS tough questions on these issues going forward and help hold us accountable. We won’t always have a ready answer. But we will always try to do what’s right to win this fight.

Monsanto’s Four Tactics for Undermining Glyphosate Science Review

Emails unsealed in a California lawsuit last week reveal that agribusiness giant Monsanto engaged in activities aimed at undermining efforts to evaluate a potential link between glyphosate—the active ingredient of the company’s popular herbicide Roundup—and cancer. The documents reveal the company’s plans to seed the scientific literature with a ghostwritten study, and its efforts to delay and prevent US government assessments of the product’s safety.

Many corporate actors, including the sugar industry, the oil and gas industries, and the tobacco industry, have used tactics such as denying scientific evidence, attacking individual scientists, interfering in government decision-making processes, and manufacturing counterfeit science through ghostwriting to try to convince policymakers and the public of their products’ safety in the face of independent scientific evidence to the contrary. This case underscores the urgent need for greater transparency and tighter protections to prevent these kinds of corporate disinformation tactics that could put the public at risk.

High stakes in glyphosate-cancer link

The case centers on the scientific question of whether glyphosate causes a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In the California lawsuit in which the key company documents were unsealed, plaintiffs with non-Hodgkin lymphoma claim that their disease is linked to glyphosate exposure.

The science is still unclear on this question. The EPA’s issue paper on this topic said that glyphosate is “not likely carcinogenic,” but some of its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members point to critical data gaps and even suggest that there is “limited but suggestive evidence of a positive association” between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemical Agency have both concluded that scientific evidence does not support classifying glyphosate as a carcinogen. Over 94 scientists from institutions across the world have called for changes to EFSA’s scientific evaluation process.

It’s complex. What is clear, however, is that independent science bodies should be conducting their assessments on glyphosate without interference from outside players with a stake in the final determination.

The stakes for public health—and for Monsanto’s bottom line—are enormous. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. Sold by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup, it is the company’s flagship product. US farmers spray nearly 300 million pounds of it on corn, soybeans, and a variety of other crops every year to kill weeds. It is also commonly used in the United States for residential lawn care. As a result of its widespread use, traces of Roundup have been found in streams and other waterways and in our food, and farmers and farmworkers are at risk for potentially heavy exposure to the chemical. (More on the ramifications of its agricultural use and the related acceleration of herbicide-resistant weeds here.)

Setting the scene for science manipulation

In 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a compulsory risk assessment of glyphosate as part of its pesticide reregistration process. The agency’s process risked the possibility that the chemical could be listed as a possible carcinogen, as the agency is required to review new evidence since its last review in the mid-1990s and determine whether it will cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment and human health. From Monsanto’s standpoint, such a classification change posed a clear threat for its lucrative product, possibly resulting in changes to labels and public perception of the product’s safety that could tarnish the brand’s image.

Compounding the companies’ woes, in March 2015, the United Nations-sponsored International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released an assessment concluding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen after evaluating the available scientific research on glyphosate’s link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. IARC recommended that glyphosate be classified as a 2A carcinogen, along with pesticides like DDT and malathion. IARC’s was a science-based determination, not regulatory in nature. But the IARC assessment, the pending EPA review, and a slated evaluation by yet another US agency—the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—appears to have spurred Monsanto to use at least four separate tactics to inappropriately influence public perception and the assessment process.

Tactic 1: Suppress the science

In one disturbing revelation, the emails suggest that Monsanto representatives had frequent communications with a US government official: Jess Rowland, former associate director of the Health Effects Division at the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs and chair of the agency’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee. Internal Monsanto emails indicate that Rowland tipped the company off to the IARC assessment before its release. The emails also quote Rowland as saying he would work to quash the ATSDR study on glyphosate, reportedly telling Monsanto officials: “if I can kill this I should get a medal.” The emails suggest that Monsanto was working with staff inside a US government agency, outside of the established areas of public input to decision-making processes, in a completely inappropriate manner.

Tactic 2: Attack the messenger

Immediately following the IARC assessment, Monsanto not only disputed the findings but attacked the IARC’s credibility, trying to discredit the internationally renowned agency by claiming it had fallen prey to “agenda-driven bias.” The IARC’s working group members were shocked by Monsanto’s allegations questioning their credibility. IARC relies on data that are in the public domain and follows criteria to evaluate the relevance and independence of each study it cites. As one IARC member, epidemiologist Francesco Forastiere, explained: “…none of us had a political agenda. We simply acted as scientists, evaluating the body of evidence, according to the criteria.” Despite Monsanto’s attacks, the IARC continues to stand by the conclusions of its 2015 assessment.

Tactic 3: Manufacture counterfeit science

In perhaps the most troubling revelation, emails show that in February 2015, Monsanto discussed manufacturing counterfeit science—ghostwriting a study for the scientific literature that would downplay the human health impacts of glyphosate, and misrepresenting its independence. William Heydens, a Monsanto executive, suggested that the company could keep costs down by writing an article on the toxicity of glyphosate and having paid academics “edit & sign their names so to speak” and recommended that the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology be contacted since the company “had done such a publication in the past” at that journal.

The 2000 paper Heydens referenced, the lead author of which is a faculty member at New York Medical College (NYMC), cites Monsanto studies, thanks Monsanto for “scientific support,” but fails to disclose Monsanto funding or other direct involvement in its publication. That paper concluded that, “Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.” After a quick investigation to assess the integrity of this study, NYMC announced that there was “no evidence” that the faculty member had broken with the school’s policy not to author ghostwritten studies.

Tactic 4: Undermine independent scientific assessment

The emails and other court documents also document the ways in which Monsanto worked to prevent EPA’s use of a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) to review the agency’s issue paper on glyphosate’s cancer risk and to delay and help shape the SAP findings through suggested changes to the composition of the panel. Within the unsealed emails, Monsanto mentioned that it opposed the EPA’s plan to create a SAP to review glyphosate because “the scope is more likely than not to be more comprehensive than just IARC…SAPs add significant delay, create legal vulnerabilities and are a flawed process that is probable to result in a panel and determinations that are scientifically questionable and will only result in greater uncertainty.” This is a bogus claim. Scientific Advisory Panels, when they are fully independent, are a critical source of science advice.

EPA’s SAP meetings on glyphosate, scheduled to begin in October 2016, were postponed just a few days before they were slated to start. This occurred after intense lobbying from CropLife America, an agrichemical trade organization representing Monsanto and other pesticide makers, which questioned the motives of the SAP looking into the health impacts of glyphosate. CropLife submitted several comments to the EPA, including one that attacked the integrity of a nominated SAP scientist. The agency subsequently announced the scientist’s removal from the panel in November 2016, one month before the rescheduled meetings took place.

Simultaneously, Monsanto created its own “expert panel” in July 2015 composed of 16 individuals, some scientists and some lobbyists, only four of whom have never been employed by or consulted with Monsanto. Who needs independent assessments when you have ready, willing, and substantially funded agribusiness scientists who call themselves “independent”?

Defending the scientific process

The revelations from the unsealed Monsanto emails underscore the vital need for independent science and transparency to ensure credibility, foster public trust in our system of science-based policymaking, and prevent entities like Monsanto from undermining objective scientific assessments. Clearly, better controls and oversight are needed to safeguard the scientific process from tactics like ghostwriting, and more transparency and accountability are needed to ensure that scientific bodies are able to adequately assess the risks and benefits of any given product. Given what is now known about Monsanto’s actions, the need for independently conducted research and impartial science-based assessments about glyphosate’s safety is more important than ever.

 

You Can Support Science and Push Back Against the Anti-Science Agenda: Here’s How

Dazed and confused is not a phrase typically used to describe scientists, yet many of us are feeling that way in the wake of the dramatic policy changes implemented in the first few months of the new government administration. A seemingly endless flurry of executive orders impact everything from what science is funded, what government scientists can talk about, what areas of science are considered appropriate for presentation on the official White House website, and who can work in our labs.

Yet many scientists I speak with are reluctant to participate in political activities for fear of making science too political. I argue that these new policies have intentionally made science political, and if scientists and supporters of science sit back and do nothing, we will allow the anti-science rhetoric to drown out rigorous, scientifically backed information.

You may be left asking yourself “what can I do”? Quite a lot, in fact. Below are some of the things that you can do today to get involved.

Increase science communication

Photo: Will Sweatt/VASG

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to join Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media. These outlets can be a great resource for new scientific articles, information about speakers at conferences, awards that your peers are winning, and a place to share the latest scientific discoveries that you read in the journals with a bit of perspective and context provided by you. You can also share reliable information about how new government policies affect scientists and research.

For the more adventurous, you can start a blog, or help trainees start a blog, speak with journalists about your research, or write opinion articles in local papers, scientific society newsletters, or even scientific journals. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have resources on their pages on how to write effective letters to the editor and op-eds. Lastly, work with your public relations office to promote your own research findings. Be sure to tweet and post that story.

Stand up for and promote science

There are over 390 satellite marches planned for the March for Science—and growing. Learn more at marchforscience.org.

The March for Science has received a lot of publicity, and you can check if there is a satellite March happening near you. You can also speak at local schools to create energy and excitement around science and scientific discovery, and potentially inspire the next generation of scientists. You can also join an organization that is working to defend science, like UCS, or local activist organizations. The UCS Science Network has an initiative to help be a watchdog against attacks on science. You can also share your story or donate money to organizations that promote science and discovery.

Communicate your views to elected officials

American Association of Immunologists fellows, members, and staff at breakfast preparing for Capitol Hill Day. Photo: American Assn of Immunologists.

A great way to communicate how proposed or enacted policies affect scientists is to directly call or meet with legislators. Tell them your story. Several scientific societies, including the American Association of Immunologists, also offer training and “Hill days” where they schedule meetings with many different legislators to discuss policies.

Run for office

Although there are several physicians in Congress, there is a definite lack of research scientists. There is currently only one, Bill Foster (D-Illinois), but that may soon change if Michael Eisen, an evolution and computational biologist from University of California, Berkeley, is successful in his bid for the Senate in California. He is not alone. Many scientists are becoming interested in running for office and the 314 Action (first 3 digits of pi) group is helping them get there. 314 Action is raising money to support political campaigns for scientists and provide candidate training.  Admittedly, not everyone has the people skills or the inclination to run for such high-profile positions. Keep in mind that the seeds of change are planted at the local level. So even running for school boards, city councils, or other local elected positions will make a difference.

I challenge you to find one way to promote and advocate for science. You may think that you don’t have time to participate, but there is no longer an option not to. We need every single scientist to stand up and get involved. Think big, start small, commit. The very foundation of science is at stake.

 

Cynthia Leifer is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University. Her research focuses on how our immune system detects and fights infection, and what goes wrong with the immune system during autoimmune disease. In addition to her research, she participates in science outreach and communication. She has written on vaccines, women in STEM, and science denial, for such outlets as CNN, Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard. @CIndyLeifer Leiferlab.com

 

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

When I March for Science, I’ll March for Equity, Inclusion, and Access

We are on the verge of something big. Scientists as a group are politically engaged like never before. They are communicating with decisionmakers, ready to march, and ready to run for office. The March for Science—an event that formed organically by a few enthusiastic people on Reddit and snowballed from there—is slated to be the largest demonstration for science that this country has ever seen. I’ve personally been blown away by the unprecedented support for scientists in the streets.

But let’s not mess this up. Some have not been pleased with how the March organizers handled diversity thus far. The March for Science organizers initially failed to include diversity within its scope and claimed that the event wasn’t “political” and that it was about the science, not scientists. Several twitter fumbles later, it is clear that the organization has been struggling with how to handle diversity and intersectionality and how to manage the differing interests of its supporters and critics. (Dr Zuleyka Zevallos does an excellent play-by-play and take here). The March for Science twitter account had an encouraging thread yesterday addressing diversity, inclusion, and harassment. Let’s keep going.

This is an important discussion. I hope the Science March organizers continue to listen and respond to constructive criticism from scientists of color, scientists with disabilities, and others who feel excluded by the movement. As participants in the march and in the broader movement for science, all of us can and must play a role in lifting these voices, standing in solidarity with our fellow scientists, and rejecting the idea that science is somehow value-free.

Science is driven by values and politics

Science isn’t partisan, but it is political and it always has been. For anyone who values science and scientific thinking, it is tempting to believe that facts will speak for themselves and that the practice and use of science will prevail above politics, discrimination, and hate. But this has never been the case.

History shows us that who has access to science, what questions are asked, and how science is used have always had political dimensions. Early scientists butted heads with the religious establishment. And who were most early scientists?  Any mainstream history book will tell you that this was mostly white men. And that’s the first problem: Because of who controls history books, the history we hear about tends to focus on white male Europeans. And just as important, access to science was largely unattainable for others, and those that did break though often didn’t get credit for their work. You may have seen the recently resurfaced story of  19th-century Irish doctor Margaret Ann Bulkley, who became James Barry, concealing her born gender for 56 years in order to practice medicine.

Moreover, we know science isn’t always used for good. And we needn’t go back to Nazi Germany to find examples of this. Forced sterilization in the eugenics movement didn’t end until the 1970s in some places. The siting of industrial facilities in African American neighborhoods without first assessing health and safety risks continues to happen, and the unsafe chemical exposure of crop workers—more than 80 percent of whom identify themselves as Hispanic—has been well documented. These things are happening today. This dark side of science means that we cannot ignore the politics of how science is used and misused.

The centrality of diversity in science

A tremendous amount of the scientific progress made in this country is made by non-Americans and non-whites. I witnessed this first hand. In graduate school, my engineering program was overwhelmingly non-white and non-American. It meant we could all perform better for it—sharing different perspectives, techniques, and ideas. Science requires creativity, collaboration, and perseverance. The whole process works better when you have a diverse group of scientists to help brainstorm, troubleshoot, and solve tough problems. Science benefits from diversity.

But the scientists also benefit. On one occasion, I lamented to a classmate (who was in the US on a Fulbright Scholarship), that I hadn’t traveled. (My brother has mental disabilities that made traveling difficult for my family.) At the time, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t traveled the world, experiencing other cultures. “You don’t need to,” he said. “Look around. You are experiencing diverse cultures right here.” He was right. To say that the science produced in this country includes diversity is an understatement. I got a scientific education and also a social and cultural one. And I’ve since visited my former classmates in their homes in Jordan, Turkey, and Colombia.

My Georgia Tech research group at the 4th Colombian Congress and International Conference on Air Quality and Public Health in Bogota, Colombia.

But it wasn’t at all a perfect melting pot. We were all given the same assignments, but my classmates of color, transgender classmates, and classmates with disabilities often carried a bigger load. I watched my friends and classmates face many barriers I didn’t have to—outright discrimination, language barriers, immigration and visa challenges, and police profiling, to name a few. Their success and progress in graduate school was more challenging because of these factors. Yet most persevered, and I owe my own success to the help and friendship of these classmates.

In fact, the success of my whole department depended on the success of its diverse student body. In this space it was clear to me just how central diversity is for science. We all have a role in helping others succeed in science. We must support our fellow scientists and work incessantly to eliminate the institutional barriers that have long restricted access to science to a privileged few.

Threats to marginalized groups are threats to science and scientists

Within the scientific community, much attention has focused on the looming threats of massive budget cuts to public science funding and science-based federal agencies. But many intersectional threats also loom large, and they have everything to do with the future of science and scientists.

Cuts to healthcare, public educational programs, Pell grants, and so much more will disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color. As Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell recently said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, these threats will do more to adversely affect potential future scientists than anything else.

Threats have consequences

The racist, misogynistic, able-ist and xenophobic actions of our new presidential administration have made many feel unsafe. The scientific community has felt this too. And unfortunately, a fear of violence isn’t unfounded.

On February 22, two Indian men, engineers at Garmin, were attacked in a Kansas restaurant by a white man yelling “Get out of my country.” One of the men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, died from his injuries. This and other similar events compounded the feelings of many non-white Americans of not being welcome or safe in their own country.

Importantly, these threats are now happening on top of everything else that many scientists in marginalized groups are already facing. The scientific community has continued to struggle with addressing institutional racism, sexism, ableism, and religious discrimination. The recent escalation in violence against people of color by police has had a profound impact on the nation and the ability of scientists of color to do their work. By the way, the number of people killed by police has continued at 2016’s alarming rates in the past two months, despite fewer headlines.

The movement for science must be unapologetically inclusive

Many are new to conversations on equity and inclusion in science, this is evolving understanding. The March for Science and the broader movement for science are huge opportunities to introduce people to the significance and centrality of these issues to the present and future of the scientific enterprise they care so much about. Some of us have the luxury of not being confronted with these issues daily, but that’s why we mustn’t be complicit. We can’t sit on the sidelines.

If you are new to this conversation, there are many places to get you started. You might be interested in UCS’ recent webinar on Integrating Social Justice in Science with Yvette Arellano, research fellow at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS); Navina Khanna, director, HEAL Food Alliance; and Michele Roberts, co-director, Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. Showing Up for Racial Justice has several resources available for getting started as well.  And follow the conversation at #marginsci to learn about the concerns that many scientists have around the March for Science.

We need to do better. Dialogue is important. Calling out missteps when we see them is crucial. As scientists and organizers, we must remember to listen, respond in earnest, and elevate messages of those marginalized or excluded. This is what makes a good ally. Indeed, this is what makes a good scientist.

The Safety of Coal Miners—and Every Worker in America—Is at Risk

Three and counting.  That’s how many coal miners have been killed on this job so far in the first two and a half months of this year. Two in West Virginia and one in Kentucky. You don’t know them, but you can be sure that their families and friends are grieving and heartbroken. They were expecting them to come home after their shifts. 

Their deaths are just the most visible of the tragedies that befall our nation’s coal miners every year. In 2016, there were nine fatalities and 1,260 reportable cases of workplace injury in the US coal mining industry. We’re not talking scratches here, but serious injuries that require medical treatment, including injuries that result in loss of consciousness, lost time, temporary job reassignment, or wholesale transfer to another job.

And then there are work-related illnesses, which can be notoriously harder to track as many take years to develop. For coal miners, these include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (Black Lung)—a devastating, irreversible, and often deadly lung disease—as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like bronchitis and emphysema.

An investigative report by National Public Radio recently revealed a major resurgence of black lung in Appalachia. This includes a cluster of 60 cases at a single eastern Kentucky radiology practice from January 2015–August 2016!

Sad and angry

These incidents sadden me greatly. As a former Acting Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and a former Chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), I know that these and other workplace fatalities, injuries, and disease shouldn’t happen; they are largely preventable.

But I’m more than sad. I’m dumbfounded and angry. Last week, the Republican-controlled Kentucky legislature approved a measure that sets coal mine safety back decades, cutting back annual inspections from four to as few as one. And West Virginia is gearing up to seriously weaken mine safety standards and inspections in their state. You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

Meanwhile coal country legislators are trumpeting federal worker protections for coal miners—a supreme irony given that our president is proposing to cut the very federal department (Labor) that is responsible for federal inspection of our mines.

Coal mining is still a highly dangerous occupation. Lost in the debate over the use of coal and our needed transition to a renewable energy future is the continuing toll that coal mining takes on the workers that mine it. These workers are already facing the industry’s precarious economic future—and thus the welfare of their own families and communities. They shouldn’t have to fight for their own safety. Do we really think its’s right – and even smart – to bolster company profits at the expense of worker safety?

Coal mines today. Maybe your workplace tomorrow.

These rollbacks of public and worker protections should surprise no one—the states are clearly emboldened by the anti-regulatory, industry-first furor coming from the White House and Congress. They are also harbingers of how these sorts of actions could affect your workplace as well.

See for example, the President’s ill-conceived two-for-one Executive Order that planted this anti-regulatory flag as an almost first order of business. Or the imminent congressional effort to roll back the ability of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to cite employers for record keeping failures. (Record keeping may sound less consequential; it’s anything but.)

And be wary, very wary, of congressional attempts to undermine the role that science plays in policy making and public protections. Bills like the HONEST Act (Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act), the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny ), and the Regulatory Accountability Act may have high-sounding names, but they are designed to seriously erode the regulatory and science advisory processes that give us the safeguards we all count on. And when you hear about regulatory rollbacks or reforms, wonky as they may sound—take a moment to think about what would be lost. For coal miners, that may be their lives or limbs.

We have a voice. Let’s use it.

Let’s keep this top of mind: Our elected officials work for us—we the people. We need to let them know what we think and what we expect of them in terms of protecting and promoting our interests—not treating us as secondary to the interests of corporate and business leaders who generally have more resources and access to the halls of power.  And then we need to hold our elected officials accountable for what they do and what they don’t do.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is there to help keep you informed about attacks on science, engaged, and to provide tools and resources to help maximize your effectiveness. eWe’re all in this together.  Your voice matters.

Photo: Mgtmail/CC BY (Flickr)

Counting the Attacks on Science by the Trump Administration and Congress


Today the Union of Concerned Scientists launches a webpage to track attacks on science by the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress. The page will be consistently updated, and we’re planning to add a filter option to view the attacks by issue, agency, and type of attack (e.g. censorship, political interference, conflicts of interest, etc.).

We aim to document the impact of political interference in science on public health and safety, and to enable to others to see patterns in Trump administration and congressional behavior. We’ve already seen quite a few attempts by the administration and Congress to dismantle the processes by which we use science to inform policy decisions. Only in recent years have we seen an uptick in the number of anti-science bills in Congress and many of them now have a significant chance of passing. This new political context is why UCS is devoting more resources to tracking and publicizing these wide-ranging and sometimes unpredictable attacks.

All the presidents’ missteps

Presidential administrations have politicized science for decades. During the George W. Bush administration, in response to a significant increase in attacks on science, UCS began keeping track of abuses compiled them here. The list of attacks, coupled with surveys of thousands of federal scientists, demonstrated the breadth of the assault on science by the Bush administration. It was happening across issue areas and across federal agencies. It wasn’t just political meddling in a few controversial areas. Rather, it spanned reproductive health to endangered species to climate change to consumer product safety. It included political appointees rewriting and censoring scientific reports, muzzling of government scientists, and people being chosen for science advisory committees based on their political affiliations. At times, the White House interfered directly in what should have been science-based decision-making. All told, the attacks on science dented the public trust in government science and had adverse consequences for the American people.

When the Obama administration came in, UCS continued to document attacks on science, and pushed the administration hard to develop systemic protections for science and scientists. Vowing to “restore science to its rightful place,” the Obama administration took several steps to safeguard science from the kinds of attacks we saw under the Bush administration, including developing scientific integrity policies, creating scientific integrity officials, and implementing various transparency initiatives (Happy Sunshine Week, btw!).

A new website will track attacks on science by the Trump administration and Congress. All modern presidents have politicized science. In 2014, the Obama administration interfered with the FDA’s science on risks from cigar smoke. Photo: Brian Birke/Flickr.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration was not without issues when it came to science-based decisionmaking.  The administration chose politics over science when it overrode FDA Administrator Margaret Hamburg’s science-backed decision to approve Plan B emergency contraceptive as over-the-counter for all ages; never before had the White House overruled a drug approval decision. Bending to industry pressure, the administration initially failed to set  a ground-level ambient ozone standard that aligned with scientific advice despite pledging to do so. The White House weakened the scientific language on the health risks from cigar smoke in a draft FDA rule. Journalists repeatedly reported significant problems accessing government experts, and surveys of federal scientists suggest problems persist across agencies.

In many ways, the science-related missteps of past presidents give us clues as to the kinds of attacks on science we might expect from the Trump administration. We know the playbook, but with President Trump, this could be a different sport. We’ve already seen the president take several unprecedented steps beyond the type of politicization of science we’ve seen before. Just one example is the president’s illegal and illogical two-for-one executive order that if fully implemented would prevent federal agencies from carrying out their science-based missions.

Assessing the overall environment for science under President Trump

The webpage of attacks on science won’t be exhaustive, but instead will provide a representative sample of threats to the federal scientific enterprise. Likewise, the list won’t include many moves by the president and Congress that have implications for federal science and scientists. For example, the President’s Muslim ban hurts science and scientists, including those working for the federal government. And the President’s rescinding transgender protections is damaging to the inclusivity of the scientific community. Across the board budget cuts, as opposed to politically targeted ones, can still demoralize the federal workforce. These actions undoubtedly contribute to an adverse working environment for federal scientists trying to do their jobs. To measure cumulative impact, UCS will repeat surveys of government scientists once the Trump administration is fully up and running.

We don’t know where the next attack will come from. But now more than ever, it is crucial for us to document, understand and share. I’ll be busy for the time being.

Know of an attack on science that you don’t see on our page?  Let me know! You can contact me here, on Twitter at @GretchenTG, or via encrypted messaging services.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis: The Lone Climate Change Soldier in this Administration’s Cabinet

Since the inauguration, we have witnessed President Trump filling his Cabinet with climate deniers and billionaires.  As each day passed, the reality of what we can expect from this administration has become all too clear.

Yesterday President Trump released his proposed “skinny budget” officially titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.”  Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, put a fine point on the implications of the skinny budget stating that it disregards science, placing communities at risk. Regarding the budget cuts at FEMA, NOAA, and NASA, he says that these cuts:

…will undermine our nation’s ability to forecast weather, prepare for and recover from disasters, and safeguard national security. These cuts will also limit our ability to monitor the impacts of ever-worsening global climate change. Such misguided changes will put the safety of Americans at risk, while costing taxpayers more in disaster assistance over the long haul.”

Indeed, all six mentions of climate change are related to cuts. In case the budget cuts to FEMA, NOAA, and NASA don’t speak for themselves, OMB budget chief, Mick Mulvaney said that President Trump sees spending on climate change programs as a ‘waste of your money’:

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that, so that is a specific tie to his campaign.”

OMB Director Mulvaney: “We consider spending on climate change to be a waste of money.” Photo by www.c-span.org 

The question is, how will President Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis, arguably the lone climate change soldier within this Administration’s Cabinet, navigate his way between his deep understanding  of the impacts of climate change and the anti-science, climate change denying administration?

Earlier this week ProPublica’s Andrew Revkin published a story on Defense Secretary Mattis’ unpublished 58-page testimony, a document that answers the Senate Armed Services Committee questions raised during his confirmation hearing back in early January. In no uncertain terms, Secretary Mattis said that climate change is a national security challenge.  According to Revkin, five Democratic senators on the committee asked about climate change, including Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking member, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Here’s what Defense Secretary Mattis had to say on climate change in his unpublished testimony:

#1 Climate change is impacting where troops are operating today and is a national security challenge:

Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” and “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.” And “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Yes, the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with Defense Secretary Mattis, as do other U.S. military leaders who applauded Secretary Mattis’ “clear-eyed view on climate change and security”.

In UCS’s report The US Military on the Front Lines of Rising Seas we looked at the impacts of sea level rise and we found that the military is at risk of losing land where vital infrastructure, training and testing grounds, and housing for thousands of its personnel currently exist.

#2 Climate change requires whole of government response:

As I noted above, climate change is a challenge that requires a broader, whole-of government response. If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department of Defense plays its appropriate role within such a response by addressing national security aspects.”

Yes, the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with Defense Secretary Mattis as do other U.S. military leaders.

In our report, Toward Climate Resilience:  A Framework and Principles for Science-Based Adaptation, we outline 15 principles organized around three themes: science, equity, and commonsense ambition. The principles are designed to be used by decision makers and practitioners from the local to the federal level and are recognition of the harm communities are facing due to human caused climate change; the damaging impacts are growing, and so is the need for ambitious action on both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In September of 2016, a non-partisan group of 43 military and foreign policy experts (the Climate and Security Advisory Group), released a briefing book on how a new administration should address climate change. The expert group recommended that a new administration should:

comprehensively address the security risks of climate change at all levels of national security planning, elevate and integrate attention to these risks across the US government strengthen existing institutions and create new ones for addressing them.”

#3 The many effects of a changing climate require the military to be prepared

I agree that the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — impact our security situation. I will ensure that the department continues to be prepared to conduct operations today and in the future, and that we are prepared to address the effects of a changing climate on our threat assessments, resources, and readiness.”

Yes, the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with Defense Secretary Mattis on the consequences of a changing climate such as maritime access to the Arctic, and that it is critical that DoD continues to address these. On our Arctic Climate Impact Assessment page, among other changes, we speak to how the Northern Sea Route navigation season is likely to increase from the current 20 to 30 days per year to almost 100 days per year by 2080.  And in this blog, Global Warming in the Arctic: A Sensitive Climate Gone Off the Rails, Erika Spanger-Siegfried notes that:

The degree to which current Arctic conditions are straying from the norm may prove to be the greatest change yet measured there—the latest signal from the Arctic that all is not well.”

For more on the impacts of a changing climate on the Arctic, see the Arctic Report Card and watch this video.

The DoD and retired Military understand the security issues of a changing Arctic as well. DoD’s Arctic Strategy outlines how the DoD will prepare for the changing conditions. Back in 2009, National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD)-66 established U.S. policy on the Arctic and documented both the national security and homeland security interests in the region.

The age of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean at winter maximum in March 1985 (left) compared with March 2016 (right). The darker the blue, the younger the ice. The first age class on the scale (1, darkest blue) means “first-year ice,” which formed in the most recent winter. The oldest ice (7+, white) is ice that is more than seven years old. Historically, most of the ice pack was many years old. Today, only a fraction of that very old ice reamins. NOAA Climate.gov maps, based on NOAA/NASA data provided by Mark Tschudi.

Stanford University’s world renowned Hoover Institution has the Artic Security program dedicated to this very issue because “the changing Arctic is the most significant physical global event since the end of the last Ice Age.” For an in-depth overview of the national security issues see the Hoover Institution’s video of Admiral Gary Roughead.

Regarding planning, the Department of Defense’s Environmental Research Programs, which includes the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP), released a report entitled Regional Sea Level Scenarios for Coastal Risk Management that provides a scenario planning tool for 1,774 military sites worldwide to plan for sea level rise.

DoD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap provides actions and plans to increase its resilience to the impacts of climate change. DoD sharpened its efforts last year with Directive 4715.21 Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, which assigns responsibilities to each of the branches.

Navigating the Anti-science Administration

Secretary of Defense Mattis’ unpublished testimony underscores that climate change is a national security issue, it requires a whole of government approach, and the DoD needs resources to adequately prepare for these changes. While it can be argued that President Trump has a wrecking ball that is aimed on climate, it can also be argued that the DoD has climate change mainstreamed into all it does (as do other agencies).  For instance, in my recent blog, I speak to how climate change is a backyard issue for Naval Station Norfolk.  But Naval Station Norfolk is just one of many installations that have climate mitigation and adaptation measures embedded in their operations.

So whether or not we see congressional attempts again to halt the Pentagon’s climate change work, my guess is that “Mad Dog Mattis” won’t back down on ensuring the readiness of the military in the face of climate change.

(For more background on what the implications of the skinny budget and what you can do, see this blog.)

CSPAN www.climate.gov

Will Congress Turn Its Back on the Safety of America’s Workers?

Let’s say someone you care about—mother, father, wife, husband, partner, son, daughter, friend, and neighbor—works in a facility that’s had a history of serious injuries or illnesses. You know, like burns, amputations, and broken bones that happen at work. Or head, eye, or back injuries. Or problems that send workers to emergency rooms, clinics, or doctors with breathing difficulties, skin damage, or other health issues related to chemical exposures or other dangerous conditions at work. 

For over 40 years, larger employers in high-hazard industries have been required to keep accurate records of these types of serious, disabling events—and to maintain those records for five years. These records are vital to understanding the extent and nature of serious workplace injuries and illnesses in our nation’s larger workplaces—and PREVENTING THEM.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses these records to allocate its meager resources for inspection, enforcement, and assisting employers with compliance. Employers, unions, and workers use these records to identify dangerous conditions and take steps to fix them. The Department of Labor uses these records to publish statistics on occupational injury and illness rates, which are important data sources for researchers and professionals who study or advise on occupational safety and health.

Because these injury and illness records are so integral to safety and health at work, OSHA can cite and fine employers when they falsify, under-report, or otherwise keep inaccurate records to evade an inspection and/or avoid making the investments needed to improve workplace safety and health conditions. And there is clear evidence that stiff record keeping fines have stimulated improvements in safety programs and conditions—sometimes extending well beyond the particular workplace to an industry writ large.

In 2012, a court decision overturned four decades of precedent and made it impossible for OSHA to enforce against record keeping violations in dangerous industries if the violations are more than six months old. Essentially, this decision held employers harmless for failing to keep accurate records of serious injuries and illnesses that happened outside a six-month window—or over a period that would reveal patterns of record-keeping violations. It would also put additional onus on OSHA, with its limited budget and inspection resources, to catch poor record keeping within six months.

One of the three judges involved in the decision indicated that OSHA could cite continuing violations of its record keeping rule if it clarified the rule.  Which it did in December 2016—clarifying that an employer’s duty to record an injury or illness continues for the full five-year record-retention period. You can see more here.

This clarification was critical, as these records save lives and prevent serious and sometimes permanent disability. Hard as it is to believe, job hazards kill over 4,800 workers a year and seriously injure another 3 million—in America! These are our loved ones, our family bread winners, engines of our economy.  You know, the ones that make America great.

This Worker Protection Is on the Chopping Block—NOW

Perhaps you’ve been following how our Congress is wielding a rarely used statute to overturn recently enacted regulations that that don’t comport with their ideological and partisan preferences—even if those rules emerged after years of study, stakeholder and public input, and a rigorous rule-making process. We’ve written about how Congress is using this statute, the Congressional Review Act (CRA), here and here.

Next week, we can expect the Senate to follow the House of Representatives in using the Congressional Review Act to overturn this important worker protection. They will use familiar corporate and industry arguments.  It’s burdensome paperwork, it’s costly, it’s a job killer.

The Problem Is Killer Jobs, Not Job Killers

Actually, it’s not an overstatement to say that overturning this record keeping rule endangers workers and could itself be a killer. This week 75 civil society organizations called on the Senate to oppose any attempt to invoke the Congressional Review Act and repeal this rule (see letter here).

Protecting our nation’s workforce is not a partisan issue. And powerful regulated industries seeking to pad their bottom line should not be the predominant voice when it comes to public protections—including workplace safety. If this president and this Congress say they stand with America’s workers, then it’s time to give meaning to those words.

So please—pick up the phone and call your senators this week urging them to oppose this Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution (H.J.Res 83 – S.J. Res 27). It’s not just record keeping. It’s the safety and health of our loved ones.

 

Who’s Marching for Science—and Why? Here Are 15 Answers

UCS is partnering with both the March for Science and the Peoples Climate March.  UCS encourages scientist and nonscientists to participate in one of the 350+ local March for Science events on April 22 and then join the Peoples Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29.

 

The role of science in society has been debated for thousands of years.

But while science and its impacts on beliefs and our world will always be the subject of some debate, in general it has been the accepted norm that the scientists themselves should largely stay on the sidelines.

Scientists should avoid politicizing their work, leaving it to policymakers to determine how their findings are implemented . . . right?

The recent election has triggered a reevaluation of this norm.

The date is now set to March for Science on April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC and satellite locations around the world.

Almost as soon as the call went out, so did the debate within the scientific community about whether and how it should respond. Do scientists have a moral obligation to stand up for their work? Or do they compromise their objectivity by taking a formal stance that can be (fairly or unfairly) aligned with political values?

Media and well-known scientists have published their personal opinions, but I wanted to take it one step further. I wondered what leading scientists, academics and science educators think about the March for Science — so I asked them, fifteen in all.

The question was simple: are you going, should others go, and why or why not?

The responses were insightful and passionate.

My main takeaway? Failing to act is not an option.

The March for Science is a signal to citizens and politicians from coast to coast, demonstrating that we will not stand by while hundreds of years’ of scientific inquiry are brushed aside.

But the follow-up question is perhaps the most important: is marching enough?

While the March for Science is seen as an important step for science advocacy, some are rightly worried that it will be a one-day news story that quickly passes without influencing action or policy.

Read on to see how some of the brightest minds in the world of science are approaching this key inflection point.

*     *     *

Dennis Bartels, science advocate and former CEO, The Exploratorium, San Francisco, Cal.

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

There is a threshold when your silence becomes deadly. I believe we’ve reached that point. We follow in a very rich tradition with far, far braver path makers who had much more to lose. It’s the least we can do, and perhaps only the beginning.

Your lives and the future of your children, and their children, and the species as a whole is in much doubt. Don’t look back and wonder and wish what you should have done back when. We’ve reached the inflection point. I truly believe that.

*     *     *

George Cogan, Chairman of the Board, The Exploratorium

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I believe people trained in the methods of science are better citizens. I wish there were more than a couple of scientists in Congress. I have not typically been involved in politics, but I plan to march as a concerned citizen.

Some believe the inexorable march towards truth is best served if scientists avoid politics. I agree in general. Scientists who ‘market’ their findings are marginalized for this reason. However, when the science is settled, the stakes are high, time is short, and political action is essential to drive change, scientists have a moral responsibility to become involved in politics.

I would like to see non-scientists join scientists at this march.

*     *     *

Ellie Cohen, President and CEO, Point Blue Conservation Science
@ecohenpointblue

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

I have concerns about my greenhouse gas footprint so will not go to DC, but will attend the March in San Francisco.

Science helps humanity discover and illuminate truths, upon which policy makers can act to better the lives of the people they serve.

With non-partisan messaging and trained messengers, the March is an opportunity to train and catalyze scientists to communicate with multiple audiences across the political spectrum. Since science by definition is not dogmatic or partisan, scientists should advocate for science and scientific findings, and participating in the March is one way of doing just that.

Along the lines of Rabbi Hillel’s sage words from 2,000 years ago (If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?), if scientists don’t stand up for science, who will? And what better time than now?

Note: Dr. Cohen’s views are personal and do not reflect the view of Point Blue Conservation Science.

*     *     *

Molly Demeulenaere, President and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa, Fla.
@MOSIMolly

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I am participating in this March to stand up for the scientific process and the people that dedicate their lives to learning more. I also believe that we need to encourage all people to be curious about the world around them, learn to think critically, and understand the importance of research and how it can play a role in their lives. For me, this March for Science advocates for what I believe this world needs.

Messages are stronger in numbers. Having a clear message that everyone speaks to is crucial. This March can bring people together to share knowledge and stand up for what we believe in.

*     *     *

Beka Economopoulos, Founding Director, The Natural History Museum, Brooklyn, NY
@bekamop

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Scientists are heroes, they solve problems and protect the people and places we love. Medical research, climate science, and research on lead levels and water quality protect us. These are the kinds of science that are in the crosshairs. These attacks on science are attacks on our families, our communities, and our collective future.

For too long we’ve relied on facts and evidence to speak for themselves. That strategy has failed us. The March for Science is a coming-out party for a movement of scientists and supporters who are speaking out in the public sphere. It isn’t partisan, it’s patriotic.

*     *     *

Kirsten Ellenbogen, President and CEO, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, Ohio
@kellenbogen

Are you going to the March? Yes, satellite march

Should others go? Yes

We are more involved in our local March for Science. We’ve had difficult conversations about whether we should march together as the science center in an official capacity.

We are talking with the directors of three other informal science education organizations locally and we know this is an important moment for science, scientists, and future scientists in our community.

*     *     *

Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, Cal.
@GlobalEcoGuy

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

It’s time to stand up for science. If we don’t, who will?

Of course others should go. The War on Science is a war on everything we care about — our health, our safety, our economic competitiveness, and our future. It belongs to everyone.

*     *     *

Peter Gleick, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences; MacArthur Fellow; and Co-founder, President-Emeritus, and Chief Scientist of the Pacific Institute, Oakland, Cal.
@PeterGleick

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

Scientists have always worked in the public interest, and while public communication and advocacy are difficult for some scientists, we’re faced with unprecedented threats that must be countered. One way is to exercise our First Amendment rights to protest, speak, peaceably assemble. I plan to exercise mine.

It is up to each person, individually, to decide how to address the threats to science that we face. I can only act on my own.

*     *     *

Paula Golden, President, Broadcom Foundation, Newport Beach, Cal.
@PaulaGolden48

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

We must resist the anti-science fake facts of the Trump regime and the right wing Republican Congress — on the streets, in the press, in the courts and at the polls. This march is a wake-up call to the nation.

Numbers count! March in DC or at a rally in your city and town. Send out the message on your Facebook, twitter and Email account.

*     *     *

Kishore Hari, Director, Bay Area Science Festival, University of California, San Francisco
@sciencequiche

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

I’m one of the leaders of the movement. My family is here in this country because my father was given admission to a science program. Science is much more than a pursuit of knowledge — it’s responsible for my existence.

Science’s core integrity is being questioned, its value to our local communities and economic future is being derided, and the importance for evidence and facts is being questioned. We have an opportunity to join forces with all the science advocates and enthusiasts to show that there is a large community who believe in the pursuit of truth and evidence.

The largest mobilization of these communities is a statement that we stand together in support of an institution that has brought so much prosperity to billions and is the economic engine of our future. We have never stood in solidarity with each other — this is first of many opportunities to walk hand-in-hand.

*     *     *

Dan Kahan, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale Law School

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Don’t want to give advice

Trump is devaluing the currency of facts in our democratic discourse.

Every profession, every citizen, should make unmistakably clear their opposition to what is happening — and their support for the dignity of one another’s calling.

I don’t know what the message of such an action would be. But I do know that exposing and opposing the insidious objectives of those who mock truth is the right thing, intrinsically, as a moral matter. While respecting others who have concluded otherwise, I am grateful to those willing to make the effort to protect these fundamental principles.

*     *     *

Daniel Kammen, Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley
@dan_kammen

Are you going to the March? Yes

Should others go? Yes

Science is critical to human innovation, equity, and progress. The threat that this new administration is presenting to science is unacceptable. I currently serve as Science Envoy for the U. S. State Department.

*     *     *

Troy Livingston  Director, Science Gallery Lab Detroit
@Troybur

Are you going to the March? No

Should others go? No

I believe strongly in the values inspiring the march. But I also believe it will be a mostly white, mostly privileged and elitist group who will not be or appear inclusive of all people.

Unintentionally, marchers may reinforce the negative stereotype that science isn’t for everyone.

Finally, I believe that the millions of dollars marchers will spend would have had more tangible benefit advocating for science if they went into the accounts of AAAS or the Union of Concerned Scientists or similar organizations.

I’m all for political activism, but I worry, just like with the women’s march, that many people will call this march their contribution to this cause and leave it at that.

What will matter most is not what happens on the day of the march but everything all of us have done and will do every other day of the year.

*     *     *

Anthony (Bud) Rock, President and CEO, Association of Science-Technology Centers

Are you going to the March? Maybe

Should others go? Prefer not to give advice

In the national (and global) discussions of so many critical issues today, science is finding its voice. This is not simply in response to recent challenges to broadly accepted scientific research in areas such as climate change, vaccine safety, or environmental sustainability. In a much more profound way, it is all that science represents — its purpose, its process, its accomplishments, its impacts — that reaffirms the importance of decisions and actions across all segments of society that are factual and evidenced-based.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) joins the many organizations that call for a collective voice on science. As an association, we must, however, also respect the diversity of views within our membership as to how to be most effective in this messaging.

ASTC hopes, however, that all of our member institutions will use every available opportunity to open our doors and engage our visitors in our essential mission to inspire people of all ages about the wonders and the meaning of science in their lives.

*     *     *

Dr. Martin Storksdieck, Director and Professor, Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Oregon State University
@Storksdieck

Are you going to the March? No, conflict

Should others go? Yes

Alan Leshner summarized it nicely at this year’s AAAS conference: You can’t not speak out for science, but you have to worry about the way it will be perceived.

The other issue: If there is a March with a broad goal to showcase the benefit and need for evidence-based decision-making, the value of basic and applied research, and such, then there better be a lot of people marching across the country.

*     *     *

Dr. Susan Weller, President, Entomological Society of America

Are you going to the March? Yes, locally

Should others go? Yes

Science is about curiosity and following where your questions lead you. From this curiosity, humans have been growing our knowledge for centuries.

For entomologists, this curiosity drives us to ask how mosquitoes spread disease and how a bee finds her way back to the nest.

I look forward to celebrating science on April 22nd here in Nebraska. Our new museum exhibit opens that day, showcasing University of Nebraska-Lincoln research on parasites. Mosquitoes that carry dengue or Zika don’t care who you are — they just make you sick. Let’s show the world that science matters in their lives and that scientists work hard to make a positive difference every day.

How’s EPA’s Science Advice Process Doing? Celebrating Sunshine and Progress at the EPA

Happy sunshine week! It’s a week to celebrate one of the pillars of our democracy: access to information. This year’s sunshine week seems especially important because of the current Administration’s open hostility toward the media, which has been shining a light on the federal government’s operations day in and day out and illustrating the clear conflicts of interest of the corporate cabinet.

Along with new attacks on transparency, some of the old ones are rearing their ugly heads, including the HONEST Act and the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Reform Act. These pieces of legislation are Trojan-horse transparency measures that would actually hurt the ability of agencies to protect public health by wasting agency resources and allowing industry to have more influence on agency science advice. They are attempts to fix problems that do not exist.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General’s new report recommends that EPA make slight tweaks to improve transparency of the agency’s interactions with its FACs, but overall, EPA’s process is efficient and attentive to information access. Source: EPA IG

This week, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report looking at how the EPA engages with and manages the recommendations from its eight science and research advisory committees. What do its results tell us? The EPA is already doing a very good job at ensuring that the operations of its federal advisory committees (FACs) and the agency’s responses to science advice are transparent. There is of course always room for improvement when it comes to public access to information, but the EPA is efficiently managing and communicating its interactions with its FACs. Its updates to comply with the most recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) amendments are still pending, but that’s a sunshine issue for another day.

Science advice at the EPA is already transparent

I’m glad the IG decided to take a critical look at science advice at the EPA. Federal Advisory Committees (FACs) are used throughout government, and each one is composed of experts tasked with a charge to review the science on a particular subject or to review the work of the agency in a draft report. The committee deliberates, weighs the evidence on the topic, and then provides recommendations to the agency. The Act that regulates FACs, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, requires measures to ensure transparency and public participation in the formation and management of committees, but the degree of transparency practiced by individual committees varies from agency to agency. We included recommendations for improving transparency and public access in our recent report, Preserving Scientific Integrity in Federal Policymaking.

The IG’s audit strictly looked at the recommendations piece of the process. It did not look at how that advice is implemented through policy, just how the agency responded to the FAC advice. The Science Advisory Board (SAB), Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Chemical Safety Advisory Committee were among the eight bodies analyzed by the IG. The IG looked at a random sampling of 13 FAC products and only found that three had not received responses from the EPA, one because the product’s recommendations were targeted at another agency, and two others because the EPA had already developed the responses offline. The EPA’s responses to the SAB, for example, were posted online as the IG recommended.

The IG pointed out that while the agency is already doing a good job of tracking its FAC responses and posting them online, it should update its training materials to highlight the importance of making EPA’s responses available online because, “According to the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy, in order to ensure transparency, the agency needs to allow the ‘free flow of scientific information.’ The Scientific Integrity Policy is the framework to ensure integrity throughout the agency, including FACs, and states that the EPA needs to promote and provide access to the public by making scientific information available online.” While the EPA already scored highly in our assessment of agency scientific integrity policies (page 8 of this report), we would surely welcome improvements to agency processes that would further promote scientific integrity principles.

Under the Obama administration, federal agencies were charged with establishing policies and practices that would foster a culture of scientific integrity within the government. The EPA has one of the strongest scores in our assessment of these policies. Source: Goldman et al. 2017

Interviewed Designated Federal Officers (DFOs), the liaisons between the agency and FACs, had some suggestions on how to improve management of the FAC process including giving the committee more context for the charge questions, more relevant background information, and clarity on how conclusions should be reached and whether consensus is necessary. One other recommendation is that DFOs should “allow FAC chairs to provide input into committee member selection to ensure necessary expertise.”  This one is slightly concerning because if, for example, the EPA SAB Reform Act is passed, a chair might seek input from more industry representatives and fewer academic scientists, which could skew an advisory committee toward a specific industry-friendly conclusion.

The EPA has agreed to implement the IG’s recommendations, and we hope that the agency and its FACs continue to uphold the agency’s own scientific integrity policy, especially as EPA’s important work has been discounted by its own head, Mr. Scott Pruitt, and other key figures in the Trump administration.

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”

We must continue to fight back against congressional attacks that would diminish the role of science in policymaking, and ensure that agencies and their federal advisory committees are able to complete their important work with the resources provided. Many agencies are already stretched thin, and with proposed budget cuts and questionable leadership it is even more important that we allow scientific agencies the discretion to review and act on science, and give the public access to that information.

To quote the Washington Post’s new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”—and, let’s face it, science doesn’t fare too well in the dark either. In the dark, White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, will better be able to accomplish his goal of “deconstructing the administrative state,” a.k.a stripping away important science-based public health, safety, and environmental safeguards for millions of Americans. So let’s keep that light bright and fight hard to prevent further attacks on scientists and the role of science in our democracy.

Trump Administration Attacks Public Health Protections with Proposed Cuts to EPA Budget

News reports indicate that the Trump administration’s ‘skinny budget,’ to be announced tomorrow, will include draconian cuts to the EPA’s staff and budget. It’s pretty clear that despite President Trump’s claims that he will work “to promote clean air and clean water,” his administration is hostile to the very agency that helps safeguard these vital resources and protect our health.

Congress should reject outright these attempts to gut the EPA. Here’s why.

Americans depend on the EPA to protect our air and water

The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. It works closely with states, territories, and tribal authorities to advance this mission. A major share of the EPA’s budget is dedicated to state revolving funds and grants to help implement laws protecting clean air and clean water. Undermining the agency’s work and slashing its budget will hurt Americans’ health and our economy. It’s also a direct attack on resources that states rely on.

Just as a reminder of the environmental challenges our nation faced at the dawn of the EPA’s history, take a look at these stunning photos from the 1970s in the Documerica archive. I think it’s fair to say no one wants to turn back hard-won progress and go back to that.

Here are just a few of the critical functions the EPA’s staff and budget help fulfill:

  1. Cleaning up our air. A big reason why our nation’s air quality has been improving is the EPA’s ongoing work to implement the Clean Air Act and limit pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. There’s no question though that work remains to be done, including in major cities around the country (see map).
  2. Cleaning up our water. We rely on the EPA’s work to help states implement the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and protect our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans from pollution so that the water is safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. To avoid tragedies like the Flint water crisis, more resources and better enforcement of environmental protections are required, not less.
  3. Cleaning up toxic and hazardous pollution. The EPA’s work to help identify and clean up Superfund sites and Brownfields is vital to protecting people from extremely harmful pollutants, while rehabilitating lands and revitalizing communities. The agency works with businesses, state, and local governments and local communities to implement solutions. It also collects data (such as the Toxics Release Inventory) to monitor progress and make people aware of their risks. Proposed cuts to the budget for these programs will have a real impact on people living near these contaminated sites and will also adversely affect the value of their homes.
  4. Helping address climate change. Climate change is already taking a significant toll on our health and our economy. The EPA’s actions to help cut global warming emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other industrial sources are a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate impacts. Despite the near-certainty that the Trump administration will roll back these policies, there’s no denying the reality that they are much needed, and that the EPA is legally required to limit carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
  5. Advancing environmental justice. The EPA plays a lead role in the federal government’s efforts to advance environmental justice, including through the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, tools like EJScreen, and a small grants program for community projects. Low-income and minority communities around the country face a disproportionate health burden from pollution.
    As just one example, African-American children suffer much higher rates of asthma than white children and are more likely to be hospitalized and die from asthma. It’s just plain cruel to see the agency’s budget for environmental justice work, small as it is, being specifically targeted for cuts. News last week that Mustafa Ali, the head of the EPA’s environmental justice program, resigned underscores just how threatened this important work is under the Trump administration. In an interview, he said that his decision to resign after a quarter of a century at the agency was motivated in part by “seeing the rollback of the budget, or the elimination of budgets of certain programs that communities had been working for for years, had been supportive of because they had been working to make positive change inside of their communities.”
  6. Using and contributing to sound science to inform policymaking. The EPA’s research, data, and tools are vital to help monitor and assess the status of our nation’s air and water and help policymakers make informed decisions about how to improve their quality. The agency also regularly solicits expert opinions from independent scientists and experts, including through the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB).
  7. Boosting the economy. This one is pretty simple: we can’t have a thriving economy if Americans are suffering under the burden of costly and harmful health impacts of poor air and water. Neither can our economy thrive if the natural environment and ecosystems that underpin it are deteriorating. Clean air and clean water are fundamental to a good quality of life and a strong economy.
Reminder to Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration: You work for us, not the fossil fuel industry

The Trump administration (and especially EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt) needs to remember that it works for us, the American public. Rolling back clean air and clean water standards, spouting off thoroughly debunked climate denial talking points, decimating the EPA budget and workforce, ignoring environmental justice concerns: these are all signs of an administration that prioritizes fossil fuel industry interests ahead of our health and well-being.

For career EPA staff, this must be a tough time. Not just because some of their jobs may be on the line, but the very mission of the agency they work for is in jeopardy. That’s why today at noon the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3331—an affiliate of the AFL-CIO—is organizing a rally at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC to protest the budget cuts and defend the EPA’s staff and the scientific integrity of their work.

People around the country are counting on the EPA to deliver the public health protections we need. Congress must stand up to the Trump administration and ensure that the EPA has the budget and staff resources it needs to do its job well.

Please write to your senator asking him or her to oppose the EPA budget cuts. And if you’re in the DC area today, please consider joining the protest rally at the EPA Headquarters.

Photos by Leroy Woodson and Frank Aleksandrowicz, NARA

Stand Up for Science: 5 Ways Scientists Can Make Their Voices Heard

As the Trump Administration and the new Congress have gotten down to work, there is a lot of chaos and confusion. But there are a few clear themes.

  • There is a concerted attempt to enact by executive order or statute major rollbacks of science-based rules that protect public health, safety and the environment.
  • Federal agencies such as NOAA, NASA, EPA, the Department of Energy, that have been in forefront of scientific work since their creation by Congress, are under attack in their management and proposed budget.
  • The new Administration and Congress are turning away from public policies grounded in scientific evidence and toward policies that turn over control wholesale to regulated industries.
  • The campaign rhetoric of racism, bigotry and misogyny was not just rhetoric.

I don’t think I am being overly alarmist. So what is a scientist to do? Just keep your head down and do your science, hoping this particularly troubling time in our national politics will pass? I hope not, and I am not alone.

Full house at the UCS “Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump” Town Hall during the Boston AAAS meeting

Call to action

At the February meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science I moderated a town hall meeting on how to respond to this new Administration and Congress. The room was packed. So was the overflow into the hall and many others watched online. And there was a lot to talk about, from a new report on Scientific Integrity in government, discussed in a new report led by my colleague Gretchen Goldman, to science in a “post-truth world” an important new essay by panelist Jane Lubchenco. It was not just an incredible panel of thoughtful scientists, but a deeply engaged audience. And everyone spoke to the need for scientists, and supporters of science, to be active, engaged, and vocal as never before.

Five opportunities to stand up for science

There are many places, right now, for scientists to stand up and be heard. Here are a few that we, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, are working on right now. Some are as simple as a tweet. Others might take a day or two of your time. And still others are opportunities to make a difference over the next months and years to push back against those who want to shove science out of the way.

  1. As a first small step, those most under the gun are our colleagues working in federal agencies. Never before in my memory have federal scientists faced as daunting a set of challenges in doing their work for the benefit of the nation. They need our support. So why not simply tweet your thanks for the scientist, agency, or program in the federal government that you know and love?
  2. Our federal colleagues are definitely in a tough spot. But they are the ones that best know what is happening inside our government. Is science being censored? Are political appointees manipulating the results? Are scientific integrity policies being ignored? But for federal employees to speak out may be risky. Let your friends and colleagues know there are secure ways to get information out, anonymously. And there are lawyers willing to help those targeted for blowing the whistle. So too are many journalists willing to tell the story and protect their sources under the 1st Amendment.
  3. I don’t know about you, but right now I am somewhat obsessively watching the news. And the attacks on science keep coming. We can’t necessarily respond to everything, but it is important to be heard on many issues. It is not okay to replace science with “alternative facts”. It is not ok to give regulated big corporations an ever greater opportunity to manipulate the rules because they have money to spend to buy influence. We need to watchdog these actions, and you can help from where you live all across the country. What can you do? Join our watchdog teams. Use our LinkedIn and Twitter groups to keep up with news about attacks on science and ways to take action.
  4. Science and science policy is not just in Washington. We know that, but do your neighbors? Speak out in your community, your local paper, and to your elected officials. You can be a scientist, but you are still a constituent – one knowledgeable about technical issues. So use your science and your constituency. Help educate and advocate in your state and our watchdog toolkit will help you get started. Here is one attack you can write to your local paper about right now. There will be more to come, with training and teams of people all around the country working together to fight back.
  5. For many of us, we want to write and speak to raise our voices. But many also want to MARCH. Getting out in the street with big crowds of our fellow Americans is another way to stand up for science. Many scientists participated in the Women’s March in January. Others went to airports to protest the ban on immigration from majority muslim countries. And in April there are two marches directly calling for scientists. On April 22 participate in the March for Science. There will be training opportunities, such as how to connect with your legislators to defend science, before and after the march itself. And, on April 29 is the People’s Climate March. Why not get your steps in and do both? The whole week between the 22 and the 29 will be a week of action in DC with many groups from all around the country participating.

We are long past the point where scientists can sit back and watch the pitch go by.

In the wise words of my friend Jane Lubchenco, “It is no longer sufficient for scientists in academia, government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or industry to conduct business as usual. Today’s challenges demand an all-hands-on-deck approach wherein scientists serve society in a fashion that responds to societal needs and is embedded in everyday lives. Humility, transparency, and respect must characterize our interactions.”

Stand Up For Science.

What’s the Skinny on President Trump’s Skinny Budget? All Bark, No Bite

It’s alarming to read headlines like: “EPA budget may be cut by 25% under Trump;” “DOE targeted for massive cuts in Trump draft budget;” “White House proposes steep cut to leading climate science agency;”and  “Trump wants 37% cut to State, USAID.” But if you find yourself getting swept up in the hysteria, just remember that the president doesn’t rule by fiat; he’s president, not emperor.

There is certainly reason for concern about the vulnerability of specific federal programs and line items to spending cuts. People who care about science and research, public health, innovation and clean energy, international diplomacy, extreme weather and climate change need to be vigilant in articulating the importance of these priorities to their congressional delegations.

But the reality is that our system of checks and balances, as well as good ole’ fashioned local politics, will make enacting the president’s budget nearly impossible.

Running the gauntlet of congress is hard

The president only controls one of the three co-equal branches of government. He doesn’t make law and he doesn’t hold the purse strings; that’s congress. And congress can’t pass a spending bill to fund the government without bipartisan support; 60 votes are needed and that means the Republicans need at least 8 votes from the other side of the aisle.

Image result for budget wiki

Photo: Wikimedia

Reaching agreement on federal spending has always been challenging and congress is more divided now than ever. That’s why federal legislators have relied more and more in recent years on “continuing resolutions,” which keep the government going at the previous year’s spending levels.

More to the point, the kind of budget cuts the administration is proposing have the potential of uniting Democrats and Republicans in opposition, since they negatively impact both red and blue states indiscriminately. Fiscal conservatism, like talk, is cheap when it’s your own constituents threatened by proposed budget cuts.

Budget 101

How does the budget process work, in theory?

  • The president releases his annual budget request, which typically happens in early February, kicking off the budget process. Current budget law says that it should be submitted between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February, although it’s not uncommon for this process to be delayed when a president is serving in his first year.
  • Congress then holds hearings on the budget, and the house and senate budget committees report out their own “non-binding” budget resolutions, which set the overall spending caps for the spending bills.
  • Congress passes the budget resolution, usually in April, and that kicks off the appropriations process.
  • The 12 Appropriations Subcommittees develop 12 separate annual bills that fund the government. Consideration of these bills begin in May and they are usually voted out of committee before the August recess.
  • Congress then has until September 30th (the end of the fiscal year) to pass the 12 appropriations bills. Differences between the senate and house bills must either be reconciled in conference, or one of those bills must pass both chambers, prior to reaching the president’s desk and being signed into law, or the government effectively shuts down.
Image result for congress wiki

Photo: Wikiwand

Budget 102

This is 2017, though, and things are more likely to work like this:

Breaking from the tradition of a comprehensive budget request, President Trump is taking a piece-meal approach to the budget this year, the first piece of which is expected this week, focuses on defense and “discretionary spending.” We are likely to see a request for big increases in defense spending, paid for with steep cuts to other agency spending, like what we’ve been reading in the headlines. Additional pieces of his budget focused on “mandatory spending,” including big programs like Medicare and Social Security, are expected in April.

Congress doesn’t always pass a budget resolution, especially when one chamber is controlled by Republicans and the other is controlled by Democrats. But even with their own party currently in control of both the house and senate, the administration may have a hard time garnering the support of some Republican budget committee members, who have already publicly expressed opposition to draconian spending cuts at some agencies. If congress does pass a budget, it will likely contain very different spending levels from the president’s budget.

All indications are that the budget committees will move forward without the president, their only guidance being the fiscal year 2018 (fy18) sequestration caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which they will probably try to get rid of so they can increase military spending.

Appropriators in both chambers have indicated a desire to pass a spending package that avoids a government shutdown before April 28th, when the continuing resolution passed last year for fy17 expires.  But big differences between the house and senate make it just as likely that congress has to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating at level spending for the rest of fy17.

Appropriators will develop their fy18 bills and move them out of committee (in most cases along party lines), but controversial amendments, known as “riders,” and the 60 vote filibuster, all but assure that many of those 12 funding bills won’t pass the senate. Even in the Republican-controlled house where only a simple majority is needed to pass legislation, the “Freedom Caucus,” consisting of conservative Republican members who advocate for smaller government, has sometimes made it hard for Republican spending bills to move forward without receiving Democratic support.

Congress hasn’t made the September 30th deadline in over 20 years, so they’ll probably need to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government operating when the regular appropriations process again falls short.

And at some point, this will likely come down to a showdown where Republicans can’t pass a bill that is acceptable to both their right-wing base in the house and senate Democrats, who will hold tight in opposition to a budget that doesn’t reflect their interests.  Reaching agreement is going to be extremely difficult, and I can already see the blame game over the government shutdown. Will the country blame the Democrats or the Republicans? Personally I think they’re likely to blame the party in control.

Cutting federal spending impacts red states Image result for wiki gulf coast damage

Photo: Wikimedia

If the president wants to gut National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite programs, he’s going to have to convince Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee of jurisdiction, that his constituents in Mobile and along their coast won’t be harmed by reduced capacity to forecast hurricanes and plan for extreme weather that floods communities, destroys homes and ruins livelihoods.  He’s also going to have to convince subcommittee members and coastal senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) of the same thing.  These senators are also likely to have concerns over impacts these cuts would have on fishing commerce, which is a big industry in all of these states.

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Photo: Wikimedia

If the president wants to gut Department of Energy (DOE) programs, he’s going to have to convince Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chair of the Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, that his constituents at Oak Ridge National Laboratory won’t be impacted; which will be a tough argument to make, since a diverse and large amount of DOE’s work is carried out at the national laboratories. The Chair of the House Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, Mike Simpson (R-ID), will also be looking out for his constituents at Idaho National Laboratory. Less funding means less work, which means fewer jobs, which means unhappy constituents in those states. Not to mention, both Chairmen, and many others, have articulated a vision of the absolute necessity of the science and energy innovation work spearheaded by DOE.

What can ordinary citizens do?

The president can’t get 60 votes for anywhere near the kind of budget cuts he’s proposing. But if the American people aren’t speaking up loudly in opposition and raising concerns with their members of congress, the likelihood of cuts to essential areas of science, research, innovation, and programs that protect public health and the environment increases significantly. What can ordinary citizens do?

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Photo: Wikihow

Call, write and meet with your members of congress and/or their staff, and tell them that:

These are the things congress needs to hear, and they need to hear them from constituents, to be empowered to stand firm in opposition to the Trump administration’s budget proposal. As long as the public stays engaged, the president is going to find out very quickly that if you don’t have a plan to work with congress—including Democrats—you’re not going to be able to advance your domestic agenda.

So what’s the administration’s plan?  That remains to be seen.

Photo: Wikimedia

Marchemos en defensa de nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud

Ante los embates en contra de las protecciones a la salud, educación, empleo, derechos constitucionales y ambiente, la población de EEUU ha respondido con un reclamo multitudinario y amplio en claro rechazo a las posturas anti-científicas y de odio del Presidente Trump y su gabinete. Apenas un día después de tomar Donald Trump las riendas del gobierno estadounidense, millones de personas, en su mayoría mujeres, abarrotaron las calles de muchas ciudades, y nada más en Washington DC marcharon casi medio millón a la Casa Blanca para repudiar el dañino programa de gobierno del Presidente Trump.

La necesidad de reducir de manera inmediata y con herramientas científicas los causantes del cambio climático es uno de los reclamos que más resuenan entre amplios sectores de la población. El cambio climático afecta los empleos, la salud humana, el bolsillo y el bienestar de generaciones presentes y futuras en nuestro planeta.

Los inmigrantes conocemos de antemano los estragos causados por la disrupción climática porque hemos vivido fuertes huracanes, inundaciones, sequías y otros eventos empeorados por el cambio climático en nuestros países de origen, y son nuestras comunidades en los EEUU las que enfrentan muchas de las más dañinas consecuencias del cambio climático. De hecho, en un informe reciente documenté, junto a mis colegas, los peligros económicos y a la salud que supone el cambio climático para los Latinos en los EEUU. Por eso y más en 2014 marcharon cientos de miles en la ciudad de Nueva York para exigir a nuestros líderes acción climática.

Pero como el reclamo ha caído en los oídos sordos de muchos de nuestros líderes, el 29 de abril de 2017 marcharemos todos juntos otra vez en Washington DC para recordarle al Presidente Trump y al congreso su obligación de tomar medidas decisivas no sólo para reducir la contaminación de carbono que calienta el planeta, sino también para exigir que se respeten los estatutos legales que protegen nuestra salud, ambiente, educación, empleo y demás.

Esta marcha es una movilización de diversos sectores sociales tales como las y los científicos, trabajadoras y trabajadores de la salud, miembros de gremios laborales, organizaciones ambientalistas, científicas, de base y justicia ambiental, por demás.

Marchemos, ya que la integridad de la ciencia federal que nos protege está en juego

Uno de los temas esenciales de la marcha es la defensa a la integridad de la ciencia que produce el gobierno federal, cuyos resultados forman el criterio esencial para la toma de decisiones en materia de políticas públicas que nos protegen.

Por ejemplo, como dice mi colega la Dra. Gretchen Goldman, si  usted hoy pudo respirar aire limpio es porque existen regulaciones como la Ley de Aire Limpio (Clean Air Act) que limita la cantidad de contaminantes atmosféricos que se pueden emitir al aire. Y si usted comió algo y no se envenenó, es muy probablemente porque un científico de la Administración de Alimentos y Medicamentos (Food and Drug Administration, FDA por sus siglas en inglés) labora en un programa de inspección sanitaria de alimentos como pollo, ganado, y huevos.  Si no tuvo percances hoy al respirar, comer o tomar agua, agradézcaselo a un científico del gobierno federal que labora día tras día para proteger nuestros medios de sustento.

Desafortunadamente, las industrias contaminantes tienen un fuerte aliado en el Presidente Trump, y los directores de agencias federales que nombró—enemigos de la salud pública y el ambiente—se disponen a desmantelar el sistema de protecciones públicas que se basan en el conocimiento científico.

Por esto es importante marchar y demostrar que no estamos dispuestos a permitir que jueguen con nuestro bienestar.

¿Cómo puede esta marcha marcar diferencia alguna?

Marchar en solidaridad con todos los que nos vemos afectados de una manera u otra es parte de una movilización multitudinaria que incluye acciones legales, directas, en medios sociales, etc. Sin duda, el demostrar nuestra fortaleza colectiva envía señales claras a nuestros líderes: los 400,000 que marchamos en Nueva York en 2014 lo hicimos en anticipación del Acuerdo de París, donde todas las naciones soberanas del mundo pactaron reducir sus emisiones para reducir el cambio climático.

La marcha tiene los siguientes objetivos:

  • Exigir que se combata el cambio climático a través de la reducción de la contaminación de carbono
  • Desarrollar la transición hacia fuentes energéticas sostenibles, de forma equitativa y que limiten el incremento global de temperaturas a 1.5 grados centígrados
  • Promover una transición energética equitativa tanto para comunidades como para trabajadores
  • Exigir un salario mínimo de por lo menos 15 dólares por hora
  • Exigir inversiones que generen empleos para comunidades de bajo ingreso y/o minoritarias
  • La implementación de mecanismos basados tanto en mercados como en políticas que protejan los derechos humanos tanto como los ecosistemas con miras a la reducción de las fuentes de contaminantes

En lo particular, Union of Concerned Scientists exige que la investigación científica sobre el cambio climático forme parte del presupuesto federal del año fiscal 2018, que se dediquen recursos al desarrollo de fuentes de energía renovable y que la ciencia que llevan a cabo las agencias federales esté libre de influencias políticas.

Todas y todos, sin importar las diferencias en nuestro lugar de origen, idioma, raza, color, orientación de género y demás, tenemos la obligación de exigirle a nuestros líderes que no olviden sus obligaciones en defensa de nuestro bienestar colectivo.  Únase a nosotros el 29 de abril de 2017 en la capital federal, Washington, DC, para enviar un mensaje claro y contundente al nuevo presidente. Nuestro clima, nuestro ambiente y nuestra salud dependen de ello.

Dear Scott Pruitt: Stop Lying. We See What You Are Doing.

I heard EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt say that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause global warming yesterday. I watched him lie in ways that only serve the fossil fuel industry. I saw him wager away our children’s future for a few more years of fossil fuel profits. And as we dangle here at the end of the climate rope, I know the fury this has lit amongst many of us.

Let’s put a finer point on what’s happening here.

Let’s also look toward ways we can fight back.

To Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration: Stop lying to the American people

Scott Pruitt is not a climate skeptic. He’s not a climate denier. He’s not unclear on the science, or if he is it’s out of willful ignorance. We could politely call him out on “disinformation,” but  it seems especially important in these times to call a lie a lie, and a liar a liar.

Put this in the “I can’t believe I still have to do this” bucket, but here it is:

But not if we allow ourselves to be gaslighted by the Trump administration’s cynical, self-serving, willfully ignorant, future negating, grandkids-gonna-hate-em industry shills.

There is no science debate here. That’s a hand-wavy, obfuscating technique that stooges of the fossil fuel industry (and this administration is teeming with them, including Scott Pruitt) trot out from time to time. These folks are not skeptics or deniers, they are not people taking a philosophical position or working out a rational conclusion. These people understand the science well enough; they are simply taking contrary positions for perverse, self-serving interests. In the world of social media, they would be known as trolls. And to the climate movement, that’s what they are: powerful and dangerous climate trolls.

To Scott Pruitt and the Trump Administration: Stop lying to the American people.

Do your job

Scott Pruitt has a very important new job. As EPA administrator, he is upholder-in-chief of the EPA’s mission: to protect human health and the environment. There are science-based laws in place to ensure those protections, and Administrator Pruitt has one chief responsibility: implement and enforce those. When he takes to talk shows to undermine science–including science on which those health- and environment-protecting laws are based–he is not doing his job. He’s undermining the entire mission of the agency and the health and safety of all Americans he was hired to protect.

On climate science specifically, the EPA’s Endangerment finding has already established that global warming emissions pose harm to human health and welfare. And its ‘Cause or Contribute’ finding equally clearly establishes the role of emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other major sources in contributing to rising carbon emissions. And these emissions are worsening wildfires, heat waves, air pollution, and rising seas that threaten our coastal communities. The EPA is legally required to act on limiting carbon emissions, based on the Mass v EPA Supreme Court ruling and these findings, and Scott Pruitt should do his job.

To Administrator Pruitt and his entourage at EPA: this agency is not a joke. It’s not a political chess piece. Americans demanded it decades ago, benefited from it, and we depend on it today. Do your job. Or step aside for someone who will.

PS: Leave your staff alone.

We see what you’re doing

Those of us who follow climate change know that the time we have to act and avoid drastic climate change is heart-skippingly narrow. We have a small foothold toward progress under the EPA in the form of the Clean Power Plan and the fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, and in our commitment to the global Paris Climate Agreement.

This administration is intent on rolling these back in service of their fossil fuel interests. As Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, put it in an interview “It’s a game. An incredibly cruel game. They are taking the future of your children away for another few years of oil and gas profits.” Watch the full, powerful interview to be reminded how to speak out.

@JeffDSachs of @CSD_Columbia, @UNSDSN on @EPA chief @ScottPruittOK denial #CO2 causes #climatechange https://t.co/8GsaC36fWD

— CNN Today (@cnntoday) March 9, 2017

It is very clear what this administration is doing when we look at the way the Trump transition team was stocked with climate trolls, the way his appointees dodged and obfuscated in confirmation hearings in response to climate questions, and the way expected executive orders and budget priorities target climate change science and policy (and budgets)—the administration is dialing back progress on climate solutions and fostering a fossil fuel industry resurgence. Which helps the fossil fuel industry and screws the rest of the entire world, now and indefinitely.

What we saw this week from Pruitt was an opening foray in what is likely to be a long, sustained assault. We should expect it to get worse before it gets better.

To the administration: We see what you’re doing. It’s shameless. And yes, we know you’re just warming up and we already find your moral bankruptcy exhausting. But one thing to remember about us: we fight hard and we never give up. We can’t.

Friends, hold the line

We have fought so hard and come so far. We’ve seen this rodeo before; we’ve dealt with this kind of campaign in the past and defeated it. Now the rodeo is back, with more bull.  And we have to hold the line.

Today is definitely different. And despite feeling powerless, there are countless reasons why we are stronger today. The outlook for a clean energy future, for example, is incredibly positive. (Do yourself a favor and read my friend’s blog on the solar outlook and feel the sunshine…) The markets show new signs of anticipating a carbon constrained future. And today, the climate action stream is merging with the social justice stream, with labor, human rights, and others to potentially form the most powerful movement this country has seen in many, many years.

To win in this moment we need to keep the faith, find strength in numbers, and fight like hell.

On the climate front, UCS is working to defend science broadly and climate science in particular, and that’s going to be the long game. But in the days ahead, we can all:

  • Call or write your senator and ask him/her to release a statement that repudiates Mr. Pruitt’s blatantly fase claims.
  • Visit your representatives’ offices in your district and let them know you expect them to oppose any effort to weaken the public health and environmental safeguards that EPA provides.
  • Keep an eye out for rallies at EPA headquarters and offices and attend if you can. I hear the AFL-CIO is planning one for Wednesday, March 15.
  • Organize a demonstration outside your regional EPA office. Ideas for signs with a science bent are here. Or just copy phrases from the EPA’s climate web pages
  • Call your regional EPA office (numbers online here) and headquarters to express your support for EPA’s climate science work.
  • Look for articles about Administrator Pruitt’s egregious position and respond immediately with a letter to the editor. We have tips to increase the likelihood of your letter being published.
  • Call your local radio or television station and demand that their news departments cover this story responsibly.
  • Are you a parent on social media? Post a picture of your kids on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook showing exactly whose future Administrator Pruitt is willing to sacrifice.
  • Find someone who questions climate science and talk to them. Here are some suggestions to guide your conversation.
  • Register for a local Scientists March on April 22.
  • And last but definitely not least, register and plan to attend the People’s Climate March in DC on April 29. UCS will be there in force.

The progress we’ve made on climate action is still modest, but so hard fought and so very precious. We know we don’t have time for this. We know what backsliding means for our future. We each have an inner Gandalf facing down the Balrog of Moria and bellowing “You Shall Not Pass!” (Or maybe that’s just me.) Let’s make sure administrator Pruitt and the rest of these trolls hear it.

Take care of yourselves in this frustrating time and thank you for holding the line as best you can.

Not this time, climate trolls.

 

Putting Science Into Practice: Why We Need to Play Our Part

I cross the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois almost daily. During the winter months, I’m thankful when the stoplight across the bridge turns yellow, then changes to red, giving me time to count the many eagles nesting and fishing along the slough by the lock and dam.

Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Photo: USDA.

That any of these eagles are here today is testament to the research of Rachel Carson, an ecologist whose public science shaped the course of policy and inspired the birth of the environmental movement in the United States.

As scientists, we are well trained in the process of conducting scientific research, but most of us have fewer teachers when it comes to engaging in the process of applying that research to public action or policy. Carson’s work continues to teach us how science can be a transformative tool; one that can change our course from extinction, pollution, and harm to one of regeneration.

Recent debate over whether scientists should engage in political action stems from a debate that Carson knew a lot about: science as a public good.

To march or not to march: what is the question?

A March for Science is planned on April 22—Earth Day—in Washington DC and (to date) in 323 communities across the globe. In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Robert Young sparked a lot of debate on scientific listservs and in academic hallways across the country about the role of scientists in the public realm.

From this debate emerges the expected chorus of those worried about losing their status asking “Is this the right time? Is this our role?”

AAAS Stand Up for Science Rally, 2/19/17. © Audrey Eyring/UCS

These questions are usually followed by the strange claim that our actions, inspired by scientific questions to which we’ve devoted our lives to studying—climate change, environmental racism, public health, and on—may (insert theme from Jaws here)….POLITICIZE SCIENCE!

Private and partisan interests have already politicized science. Our concern today should instead be how we reclaim science as public good. That is a political concern, but need not be a partisan one.

The politicization of science

In his op-ed, Young claimed that Al Gore is responsible for “politicizing” the science of climate change in the United States through his production of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. However,  sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap document that the politicization of climate change in the U.S. happened much earlier than 2006 and that it was not because of well-intentioned documentaries; rather, it was due to the strategic work of the George W. Bush administration on behalf of private interests.

This is not a new story. Silent Spring was published 55 years ago, yet the agricultural industry continues to try to tarnish Rachel Carson’s reputation. More recently, we see this continued bullying and silencing of scientists in Syngenta’s attempted defamation of Tyrone Hayes, the North Carolina Pork Council’s threats toward the late Steve Wing, or Rush Limbaugh and the religious right’s personal attacks on Kari Norgaard for her research studying climate change denial.

Our country has a long history of industry and special interest groups, and their political advocates, attacking scientists for “doing science” when it doesn’t support their profit making. It is important to differentiate though that these examples are not the fault of scientists “politicizing” science, but of industry and politicians politicizing and manipulating science. It is on us to take it back.

Reclaiming science as a public good

The eagles nesting along the Mississippi River are here because a scientist took a risk and engaged with the public.

I agree with Young when he argues that this engagement begins at the local levels. This engagement with the public—and political—realm can be frightening and comes with consequences, as confronting privilege often does, but we must do this hard work if we want a future for our disciplines, our loved ones, and our planet. We already have some of the tools we need: we are trained to manage and account for the uncertainty that comes with engaging the unknown. We now need to begin to employ the critical and creative parts of the scientific process as we experiment with new venues, new messaging, and varied approaches to sharing and advocating for science that is much needed by the public.

Sandra Steingraber often uses the metaphor of the symphony to describe the situation we now find ourselves in: we are each musicians being called to play our instruments as best we can in order to save the world. The imperative for those of us housed in institutions of higher education to play our part is especially important, as Bard College president Leon Botstein recently wrote, not only for science, but for democracy itself. We are citizens, too, and now, more than ever, scientists are needed to play our part.

March for public science. Advocate for more funding and institutional support for public science. Engage in public science partnerships with community groups and policy makers. If you’re so inspired, please run for office. Remain transparent because we do not have anything to hide. It is okay and good to love the work we do, and to share that we do it because we love our families, our homes, and our planet. We won’t all be successful, but we’ve been trained for that, too: revise, resubmit, revise again. Here’s to seeing you in the streets, at the city council meeting; to reading your letters to the editor; to hearing your voices at the legislative forums and at the rallies. Science is a public good—let’s put it into practice.

 

Angie Carter is an environmental sociologist and teaching fellow at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

 

Why the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act Is Bad for Science

Congress’ perennial bill, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, has again reared its ugly head. The bill seeks to change the requirements for the EPA’s advisory committee to give industry greater influence while adding extra burdens that make it harder for the committee to meet its charge of providing science advice. It would also have the side effect of dissuading scientists from serving on this advisory committee because of future restrictions to obtaining EPA funding.

This is one of several attempts by Congress to meddle with and ultimately undermine the process of science informing policy decisions, including the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act, formerly known as the Secret Science Reform Act). What these bills have in common is the public-facing message of increased transparency and public access, while the underlying goal is actually to give industry greater influence over the scientific process and burden science agencies with excessive requirements. These measures are attacks on public health, safety and environmental safeguards, plain and simple.

The independence of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and its ability to continue its work with the caliber of experts it currently employs would be seriously jeopardized by this proposal. The SAB was established in 1978 to provide independent scientific advice to the EPA’s administrator. It currently advises the agency on complex scientific issues ranging in scope from agricultural science to chemical assessments, ecological assessments, environmental justice, drinking water, and radiation. Most recently, the EPA SAB was instrumental in ensuring that the EPA made clear and evidence-based conclusions that accurately represented its findings on the systemic impacts of fracking on drinking water resources.  This bill’s language makes it sounds like the integrity of the SAB has been compromised in some way, when really, the passage of this bill would do just that.

Here are some of the major red flags with this bill:

It discourages academic experts from SAB participation

The bill contains hurdles for academic experts to meaningfully participate in the SAB by banning experts’ participation in “advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review and evaluation of their own work.” This language presumes that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who have experience working on these issues are. The bill does appear to permit SAB experts with published, peer-reviewed research, to address those topics on which they have credentials, provided that their expertise is publicly disclosed. But the language in the bill is so vague that it raises many questions. This is likely a way to make scientific experts think twice before joining the SAB since it could lead to legal issues if some of their scientific views are not peer reviewed or published, for example. This is the opposite of how the SAB should work. Scientific advisory committees work best when their members have expertise in the area they are advising on. While this may be obvious to most people, this does not appear to be obvious to Chairman Lamar Smith and his colleagues.

Not only that, but the bill includes a provision that board members may not have current contracts with the EPA or “shall not apply for a grant or contract for 3 years following the end of that member’s service on the Board.” Such a provision is nonsensical. EPA awards grants to academic scientists to learn more about scientific topics without a policy agenda and grantees are free to conduct the science and produce results any way they want. There is no predetermined or desired outcome and is a completely separate process from EPA policy decisions. Conflating science advisory board decisions with EPA grants completely misunderstands how scientific grants work.

This is simply a way to deter academic scientists from pursuing a slot on the SAB, opening up opportunities for industry interests who would never be in need of government funding to join the Board.

It encourages more industry presence on the SAB

While industry representatives are permitted to serve on advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), they must disclose their conflict of interest. This bill emphasizes specifically that experts with financial ties to corporations affected by SAB assessments are “not excluded.” While the SAB’s ethics rules do not allow this exclusion anyway, the language implies that industry representatives who have a financial stake in some of the EPA’s policy decisions would effectively be considered in the same ranks as academic scientists who have never stood to profit from an EPA decision. This false equivalency cannot stand.

This sentiment that more industry representatives should be on advisory committees was perpetuated at a February 7 Lamar Smith-chaired Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing: “Making EPA Great Again.” During the hearing, several committee members accused the SAB of being an “echo chamber,” “stacked” with scientists who are supportive of the EPA’s views and could be remedied by including more members from industry for “balance.” To this asinine accusation that advisory committees should contain more “devil’s advocates,” The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt responded, “That is a science advisory board—it will not function better by having fewer scientists on it. It is supposed to look at science. But in the name of balance and diversity, there’s an effort to make it, well… less scientific.” Holt is right. Including conflicted individuals in the name of “balance” would threaten the SAB’s ability to conduct truly independent scientific reviews.

It draws out the science advice process

Public comment is already built into the federal advisory committee process under FACA. This bill would expand public access to an almost debilitating level. This would especially benefit industry, which tends to have greater resources with which to follow rulemaking, appear at public meetings, and write public comments. For example, one provision in the bill would require that, “if multiple repetitious comments are received, only one shall be published” and therefore count toward the administrative record. This hits directly at members of the public who sign their name to a form comment initiated by organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists. If the thousands of form comments submitted on a certain issue are only considered as one, the voices of all of those individuals would be effectively silenced. A move like this would further stack the deck in favor of those who have money, time, and connections to submit several unique comments to have an uneven influence on the public comment process, diminishing the voice of communities most often bearing the brunt of environmental or health impacts that the SAB is charged with analyzing.

According to the bill, for each major advisory activity, the Board must convene a public information-gathering session “to discuss the state of the science” related to that activity. Just imagine the type of loop that could be triggered as the Board examines “the state of the science” on climate change or the harmful effects of a certain toxin as it prepares to meet to address some aspect of climate health or air pollution.

In addition, both the EPA, before it asks for the Board’s advice, and the Board itself would be required to “accept, consider, and address” public comments on the agency’s questions to the Board. By addressing each and every comment it receives, the SAB would have less time to actually provide scientific advice to the EPA administrator. All SAB meetings are already open to the public and transcripts made available, in accordance with FACA. The provisions contained in this legislation open up the process more than necessary, turning each scientific evaluation into a public hearing, and adding cumbersome responsibilities to the SAB’s already full plate.

As my Center for Science and Democracy colleagues wrote in Science two years ago about a previous iteration of this bill: “these changes give political and legal operatives greater influence over the advisory board while marginalizing independent scientists, as well as greater opportunity for frivolous and resource-consuming challenges to the board’s findings.” This and other attacks on the scientific process will not just impact potential SAB members but could change the way that science informs policy at the EPA for the worse. We will be working to stop this bill in its tracks in order to preserve the integrity of science advice in government and ensure that EPA has the best information to make critical decisions that protect our health and our environment.

Join us by calling or writing your members of Congress today to tell them to oppose this harmful and unnecessary legislation.

 

A Dishonest Proposal: The House Science Committee Resurrects EPA Secret Science Nonsense in the HONEST Act

This week, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Lamar Smith will officially mark up a new (but not really improved) version of his long championed but always nonsensical Secret Science Act. Now rebranded as the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act (HONEST Act), the bill effectively prevents the EPA from using the weight of scientific evidence to protect public health and the environment.

Specifically, the HONEST Act would require that all raw data, models, code, and other materials from scientific studies be made available to the public before a federal agency could use it. The bill would have sweeping scope over EPA actions, covering “risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance.” The bill does have exceptions for personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information, but a redacted version of these materials will still be made public to persons who sign a confidentiality agreement.

This doesn’t make sense. Here are five reasons the HONEST Act is actually a dishonest proposal:

1. It fundamentally misrepresents how science works.

You might not need a refresher on how science works, but it’s clear that the House Science Committee Chairman does. Here’s a quick run-down: In order to be published in a scientific journal, research must pass through peer-review where 2-3 experts familiar with that field will critique the scientific merits of the study. Thus, when a study has passed peer review, we know it has met a standard set by scientists in that field.  Federal agencies like the EPA then use that peer-reviewed science in order to issue science-based rules.

Nowhere in this process does the public or Congress need to see raw data that went into studies in order to trust federal agencies’ ability to assess the weight of scientific evidence on an issue. Scientists conducting the peer review don’t even typically see the raw data of studies. They do not need to. They can look at the methods, design, and results in order to assess the quality of the science. The peer review process—conducted by those with scientific expertise—provides the necessary scrutiny here; the scrutiny of Congress would insert politics into what should be a scientific discussion.

2. It pretends to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Let’s be clear. The decision-making process at the EPA is already exhaustingly transparent. There are thousands of pages of documents and hours of phone calls and meetings of scientific experts discussing technical details of those documents—and the public has full access to these discussions! I know. I’ve listened to hours and hours of meetings and read hundreds of pages of documents. I would never say that a problem at the EPA is a lack of access to the details of agency decision making.

Further, it is important to note that the EPA already painstakingly collects scientific data and other details from the studies that it relies on to make policy decisions. I know because they asked me for it. The EPA’s 2015 decision on a revised ambient ozone standard relied on many studies of ozone pollution and its relationship with health outcomes, including work that I did as a doctoral student at Georgia Tech looking at exposure measurement in ambient air pollutants. Even though I had conducted the study several years earlier as a graduate student, EPA scientists tracked me down and got me to dig through my files and find the original data that supported the figures and conclusions of my study so I could share it with the agency. If that isn’t dedication to scientific integrity in science-based policy, I don’t know what is.

3. It wastes taxpayer dollars and agency resources.

Ironically, the bill is directly at odds with President Trump’s stated desire to create a more efficient government. It adds unnecessary and burdensome redundancy to the process of promoting clean air and clean water. Chairman Smith is adding red tape to the federal government, not reducing it.

The bill allows “any personally identifiable information, trade secrets, or commercial or financial information” to be kept nonpublic. Yet, the bill also allows a person who signs a confidentiality agreement—“subject to guidance to be developed by the Administrator”—to access the data if the protected information is redacted.

Do you know how much time and energy redacting government documents takes? There are entire offices in federal agencies devoted to this singular task. Federal agencies rely on a tremendous volume of data that would fall into these categories. Requiring agencies to redact specific details on large datasets would require EPA to have a much larger budget and staff. They could spend thousands of hours redacting documents for one requester. And of course, this bill is being introduced after a leaked version of President Trump’s proposed EPA budget indicated the agency could receive deep cuts.

4. It stifles innovation, which Chairman Smith claims to support

The chairman purports to care about innovation in the private sector. But interestingly, his bill doesn’t include protections for intellectual property, and it makes industry trade secrets available upon request to anyone who signs an agreement. You know who probably won’t like that? Anyone in the private sector.

Such a provision could discourage the private sector and academic researchers alike from providing scientific information to the EPA. Scientists rely on innovation and the originality of their ideas and methods in order to publish original research, secure grants, and keep pushing the edge of scientific knowledge. We need such science to inform federal policy decisions. But if researchers knew that sharing their science with the EPA meant that their intellectual property would be exposed to the world, they might opt out. If the EPA can’t use the best available science because companies and academics won’t provide it, the agency can’t make science-based decisions and it can’t follow its mission to protect public health and the environment.

5. It is a thinly veiled attack on science that Chairman Smith doesn’t like

This bill is just another tactic that Chairman Smith has dreamed up to attack science he doesn’t like and undermine efforts to hold others accountable for misrepresenting science. Add it to my ongoing laundry list:

  • The Science Committee attacked scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for producing policy-relevant climate science, demanding to see their email communications.
  • The Committee targeted the Union of Concerned Scientists for having spoken with state attorneys general about the role of ExxonMobil in selling a product they knew to be harmful due to the risks of climate change.
  • Chairman Smith previously attempted to interfere in the National Science Foundation’s grant process, ridiculing scientists’ work that he thought sounded silly (without, of course, speaking with the researchers themselves).
  • Chairman Smith went after the National Climate Assessment at one point, claiming it “include[d] unscientific characterizations.”
  • The House Science Committee’s social media routinely spreads misinformation on climate science.

In conclusion, this is anything but an honest act by Chairman Smith. It would compromise the ability of EPA to protect our air and water. Please encourage your members of Congress to oppose this dangerous bill.

President Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts: Hurting NOAA Hurts America

Here’s a simple recipe for angering millions of Americans: take away something they heavily depend on. News reports this weekend indicate that the Trump administration is proposing to do just that by making deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget. Congress would be wise to get a handle on what these cuts mean and ensure they are dead on arrival.

Whether we Americans know it or not—and I’d wager that the president and some of his advisers are among those of us who don’t—we rely heavily on NOAA.

We rely on NOAA to help us maintain public safety and public health, provide weather forecasts, and enable national security. It supports shipping, commerce, farming, transportation, and a secure energy supply. We rely on it because we can only understand our world and emerging threats within it through the use of information and data.

NOAA is one of our nation’s premiere science agencies (with NASA, also under threat) and deeply interwoven into the nation’s economy. Overall, an estimated one-third of America’s GDP is affected by the services NOAA provides.

We can be forgiven for not realizing the way NOAA supports our information-driven world, but the administration should know better and should walk back these cuts.

A day without NOAA satellite data? Better stay home.

Did you check the weather report this morning before leaving the house? As my colleague reports in her recent blog on NOAA, “No matter your source of weather, all forecasts are underpinned by observations and models provided by NOAA through its National Weather Service (NWS) and National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS).”

As the agency puts it: “Weather forecasters across the country and around the world rely on data provided by the NOAA Satellite and Information Service. […] This 24/7, uninterrupted flow of essential environmental intelligence is the backbone of the National Weather Service’s sophisticated computer modeling to create forecasts and warnings for severe weather events, thereby saving lives and protecting local communities.”

Many of us don’t get out of bed in the morning without checking in with NOAA’s latest data in the form of our local weather forecasts.

Indeed, NOAA’s role in providing advance warning on storms and extreme weather and its increasingly accurate storm tracking capabilities can determine how federal and state officials muster resources in advance of landfall, how local officials and emergency managers manage evacuations and preparations, and how families and individuals respond to the threat.

It’s not an overstatement to say that without NOAA data, the data-guided, informed-up-to-the-minute lives we lead would be palpably affected. Depending on how these cuts were absorbed within NOAA’s satellite division, they could prevent accurate weather forecasting, undermine disaster management, undercut crop production, and obscure the rise of important threats, like droughts and wildfire conditions, algal blooms toxic to human health, or wave heights dangerous to shipping.

NOAA’s satellites provide military personnel with “forecasts and imagery for their aircraft, ships, ground forces and facilities worldwide.” And they are the reason that the Department of Homeland Security and state and local emergency planners can count on up-to-the-minute information on storms and other weather-related hazards, as those dangerous situations evolve.

The Washington Post reports that the administration’s Office of Management and Budget released an initial budget proposal (referred to as a “passback” document) calling for cuts to NOAA’s satellite data division, NESDIS, of $513 million, or 22 percent of its current funding. Such cuts would cripple NOAA’s ability to keep its satellites and data-gathering activities going.

It’s unclear who would benefit from such cuts—freeing up only a small sliver of the federal budget for other uses—but it’s clear who they would hurt. They would leave Americans less informed and less safe, businesses less certain, and they would throw mayors, state governors, and first responders under the bus, as their effectiveness in an emergency so often depends on NOAA’s good information.

The cuts are being pitched, according to the Post, as “tradeoffs” and as part of the administration’s efforts to “prioritize rebuilding the military” and would seek “savings and efficiencies to keep the Nation on a responsible fiscal path.”

But this is a poor trade-off, especially given NOAA’s comparatively small budget and the dependence of national security and the economy on NOAA’s services.  We can’t trade off some of the important ingredients for fiscal health, public safety, and national security and expect to somehow have them all anyway. Those aren’t trade-offs so much as diminished returns.

NOAA’s share of the federal budget: The main pie on the left is the total federal budget in fy16 (roughly $3.85 trillion). NOAA’s share, at $6.5 billion, is too small to be seen. But if we set aside Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (blue), and the military (red), and instead focus on the slice that represents everything else (green), we see that NOAA represents a tiny share of that piece, while providing outsized value. The budget for NESDIS, NOAA’s main satellite division, was $2.3 billion. (Sources: NOAA Corporate Services; Congressional Budget Office)

A future without NOAA satellite data? Let’s not.

NOAA data tell us where we’ve been and, if we use it well, where we’re going.

UCS has used its tide gauge data and sea level rise research, for example, to project tidal flooding and permanent inundation of US coastal land areas, including major military bases.

Today, NOAA’s coastal data are vital to the efforts of coastal communities to plan and prepare for coastal change, including rising seas. States like South Carolina recognize their current and future coastal risks, thanks in no small part to NOAA, and are using NOAA resources to plan and prepare for the future.

Without a clear indication of the coming threat of sea level rise, increased storm surge, and permanent inundation—an indication that depends on updated NOAA data and, often, research—coastal communities will fail to foresee and invest in the necessary measures and will find themselves stuck amidst rising waters.

Defund NOAA’s monitoring capabilities? Hobble coastal communities planning abilities? Compound emergency management challenges? No, thanks. We built those capabilities out of a clear need and, with sea level rise, leaders in red and blue states alike know that kind of need is only growing, and rapidly.

There has been much said about the Trump administration’s seeming preference for the America of the Eisenhower years. Deep cuts to NOAA, including its satellites and data gathering, would indeed be a big backward step in that direction. But the world has moved on and Americans don’t want to go back to living with poorer information and a less accurate sense of what’s coming.

We want, we need, we demand the things that good satellite data enables in our lives, and the secure future it can help us build. This country as we know it can’t be great—arguably, it can’t even keep the lights on—without it.

These very things make America great

From its earliest inception as the “Survey of the Coasts” under President Thomas Jefferson, NOAA has been responsible for gathering and distributing data of national importance. Over time, the demands we have placed on NOAA for generating and storing data have grown, as our society and economy have grown in size and complexity.

Today NOAA generates “over 20 terabytes of data daily from satellites, buoys, radars, models, and many other sources” through our NESDIS program.

Much of this data is housed in our National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), which “hosts and provides public access to one of the most significant archives for environmental data on Earth. […] we provide over 25 petabytes of comprehensive atmospheric, coastal, oceanic, and geophysical data.” And it’s not just recent data that NOAA offers: NOAA’s records “include observations dating back to the earliest days of the United States and data about environmental conditions thousands of years ago.”

A national treasure, I would argue. One valued by scientists worldwide. But also an asset vital to our economy, public health and safety, and national security—and a clear value, in light of its relatively small budget.

One of the things NOAA does with this data is prized in red and blue coastal states alike: NOAA Sea Grant projects. The cuts in the OMB document would eliminate Seagrant, a much-loved program, consistently making a difference in people’s lives. As Andy Rosenberg, director of UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy put it “eliminating Sea Grant, an enormously successful program led by 33 states to provide science to address local issues, would seriously hinder capacity in states like Alaska, Maine, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama to understand and protect their coastal areas.” This successful program with the tiny budget is the kind of thing we celebrate and, were possible, replicate. Not eliminate.

Who thought this was a good idea? If they are attuned to their state’s coastal communities, those in Congress will not.

NOAA’s mission: To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Keep up the good work, folks! (Credit: Bobby Magill)

Let’s also remember that what greatness we have comes in no small part from the boundaries we push and the new heights we reach in science, technology, and engineering.

NOAA’s newly-launched GOES-16 satellite is one such height. GOES shows its worth in new storm footage (see video) that can distinguish far better between cloud layers, and between clouds that hold rain versus ice—a development that can greatly increase our storm forecasting abilities. For Northeast states like Maine, shown in this video, that are frequently hammered by Nor’easters, developments like this are important and to be celebrated, not defunded, just as we’ve arrived at this new capability.

Watch this amazing GOES-16 imagery of the winter storm in the Northeast today!! See more imagery and learn more at https://t.co/uqOfZ3hp2c pic.twitter.com/4sA0cH25I5

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) February 13, 2017

GOES-16 also reminds us that a nation of such wealth and talent needs to be and stay at the world’s leading scientific edge. New GOES-16 images of the sun’s flares not only inform things like electric grid management, they astonish and inspire. Way to be great, NOAA.

NOAA’s newest satellite, GOES-16, launched in late 2016, is sending us valuable data about and stunning images of our sun. (Credit: NOAA)

Defending our science from an anti-science administration

This administration has a flagrantly anti-science agenda. It seems intent on undermining climate science in particular—one of the most important pursuits of our time—and dismantling the architecture that enables climate data gathering and research. Indeed, the proposed budget also deeply cuts the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, home to NOAA’s research efforts, including NOAA’s Climate Program Office. UCS says not on our watch. Congressional allies must do the same.

The Trump administration should do its homework, get a handle on the science that is currently great and essential for our nation’s security, economy, and public safety, and keep hands off those things—in this case, the satellites that our nation operates and the vital data it gathers under NOAA. And Congress should make sure those data and tools and science writ large are kept safe from misguided budget cuts.

Please call your Congressperson and tell them to oppose cuts to NOAA’s budget.

 

President Trump’s Opening Salvos on Clean Water—and Other Public Health Safeguards

Earlier this week, we heard two things from President Trump about clean water. In his address to the joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, he talked about protecting and ensuring clean water. That’s an important goal and one broadly shared by the American public.

But a day earlier, he signed an Executive Order (EO) to get rid of a rule that would actually help keep water clean. And two weeks before that, he signed off on a congressional action that rolled back a rule limiting the coal mining industry from dumping mining waste in streams and waterways. There’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on here.

Like clean water?

Rhetorical question. Everyone recognizes the essential role that clean water plays in protecting and promoting human health, along with the health of the ecosystems that sustain our wildlife and nourish our spirit when we swim, fish, stroll, or just plain gaze and take it all in. President Trump’s remarks before Congress and the viewing public suggest agreement—at least in principle.

Yet, days before making these remarks, he issued an Executive Order (EO) directing Scott Pruitt’s EPA to start of the process of rescinding regulation aimed at preventing water pollution in small streams, headwaters, and wetlands. In his words, “With today’s executive order, I’m directing the EPA to take action, paving the way for the elimination of this very destructive and horrible rule.”

We’re not talking puddles here, though that’s a clever ruse for the regulation’s detractors. These bodies of water feed into larger ones downstream, so keeping them clean and pollution-free is just common sense. And the peer-reviewed science supports what seems intuitively obvious.

Politics trumping science and public health?

The so-called Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule was not just some new and arbitrary regulation. It was a carefully considered clarification of the types of water subject to EPA protection under the Clean Water Act, prompted by a Supreme Court decision and some very solid science. Now water under the bridge, so to speak, because the Administration seems bent on dismantling and undermining the very public health and environmental protections Congress required when it enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972.

This latest assault on science-based regulation should give us great pause. It’s another worrisome signal that politics and industry influence could trump the public interest when it comes to public health and environmental safeguards. It follows an EO at the end of January that directed federal agencies to identify for elimination two regulations for every new one they might propose.

These efforts don’t get rid of ‘unnecessary’ protections. They can actually make us less safe, less healthy, and are based on a false premise—that we must choose between our health and safety and economic growth. Not so. We can and have had growth while strengthening protections for clean water. After all, the Clean Water Act has been around since 1972 and while our economy has grown enormously, our water has gotten cleaner. Just look at Boston Harbor or the Charles River here in Cambridge, or thousands of other places around the country. The Clean Water Act says it is the goal of the US for our waters to be fishable and swimmable. Does that sound extreme? What does sound extreme is that 2 for 1 directive that agencies eliminate two for any one new regulation needed to protect our health, safety, or environment.

Stand up for science

The US public wants and relies on the safeguards and protections that our agencies—at all levels of government—provide.  And they want these protections to be informed by the best available scientific evidence. It’s no quick and easy feat to develop (and may I add rescind) a rule or regulation; it’s a painstaking process based on science and significant public input. Public health and safety should be a top priority, not politics or the pockets of the most powerful interests. Science-based policy is in the public interest, and we need everyone—scientists and non-scientists alike—to stand up for science. We  have developed a toolkit to help. Join us and others in this effort.

 

Photo: Marine Jaouen/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Flickr Graphic: EPA

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