UCS Blog - CSD (text only)

SCOTUS Will Decide Citizenship Question in April

On Friday, the Supreme Court acted with unusual speed to agree to decide whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 Decennial Census. The hearing is now set for the second week of April. Earlier in the week, leaders from both political parties in the House of Representatives urged the Court to decide the case before the end of its current term, even though they disagree over what the Court should say.

At issue is the legality of the citizenship question. In January, Judge Jesse M. Furman of the United States District Court in Manhattan decided that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke “a veritable smorgasbord” of federal rules when he announced that the question would be added last year. Citing the cherry-picking of information and previous misleading statements given under oath, the judge rejected the Trump administration’s rationale for adding the question.

That rationale has centered on the claim that previous Censuses have included a citizenship question, and that the addition of the question is necessary for the effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Plaintiffs counter that there has not been a citizenship question on the Census since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, and they challenge the administration’s rationale, based largely on the reaction of the scientific community.

Census experts ranging from all of the recent past Census directorsnumerous scientists and scientific organizations that use Census data, as well as the nation’s premier civil rights and voting rights groups, have all argued that the addition of such a question threatens the scientific integrity of the entire Census.

Pilot studies and previous analysis revealed that immigrants and other ethnic, racial, and religious groups would be more difficult to reach with the addition of the question. Undercounts of any populations threaten the integrity of the data collected, data used to apportion seats to the House of Representatives, fund over 300 programs that allocate $800 billion in federal funds, and provide private sector market segmentation, consumer analysis, employment and a massive amount of other Census-dependent economic data.

Political scientists and voting rights scholars argue that the distortive effects of such an undercount undermine the rationale for the question, as voting rights litigation cases depend on accurately estimating the number of voting age individuals in specific geographies. They point out that the current methods of estimation, which use anonymous questions asked of populations sampled by the American Community and Current Population Surveys, provide more accurate estimates of the populations in question.

The Trump administration maintains that “[o]ur government is legally entitled to include a citizenship question on the census and people in the United States have a legal obligation to answer.”. Dale Ho, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project, countered that the January ruling was “a forceful rebuke of the Trump administration’s attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities.”

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides that representatives in the House “shall be apportioned among the several States … according to their respective Numbers,” with the “Numbers” determined by “counting the whole number of persons in each State.”

Several advocates at the margins of immigration policy and constitutional theory, including the Heritage foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, have argued that the term “persons” in the 14th Amendment should be re-interpreted to exclude individuals who are in the U.S. illegally, without the permission of the federal government. Von Spakovsky served on President Trump’s disgraced “Voter Fraud” commission.

The Court should affirm the lower court’s ruling. A corrupted census has untold consequences for the country. And a politicized census is a power grab by entrenched interests. Congress should conduct oversight to ensure that the census is conducted fairly and without bias, and to take steps to ensure that questions are added to the census only after undergoing rigorous statistical testing. We must be vigilant about the integrity of the Census, which is, after all, the story of America.

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Wheeler Claims Action on PFAS, How Much Is True?

At a press conference in Philadelphia this morning, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the long-awaited action plan for the class of toxic chemicals known as PFAS. During an ABC News interview last night, Wheeler called the chemicals “a very important threat.” Indeed, the scientific literature points to associations between PFAS exposure to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, increased cholesterol, and hypertension in pregnant women. So what is EPA planning to do and is it enough to protect you and your family from the harmful effects of PFAS?

Source: EPA

The lowdown on the plan

The plan is a regurgitation of the steps that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt laid out last year, with no added urgency to meet the outcomes. The report is littered with vague language that gives EPA plenty of wiggle room when it comes to actually taking action.

First, the action plan claims it is “moving forward” quickly with the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) process under the Safe Drinking Water Act and will have a regulatory determination by the end of the year. This determination could mean no regulation at all. If an MCL is created for PFOA and PFOS, two of the most widely studied PFAS, every water provider would have to test for these chemicals regularly, be responsible for filtering out the chemicals to meet the safe level, and let consumers know how much of the chemical is in their water.

As the drinking water of millions of Americans has been contaminated with PFAS chemicals, it is absolutely necessary that EPA meaningfully move forward to set enforceable limits of PFOA and PFOS in water, rather than merely paying lip service. This process should of course incorporate the expertise of staff scientists at the agency and be informed by the best available science. But, as EPA hasn’t set a new MCL in over 20 years, it’s difficult for me to muster any confidence that this demonstrably anti-science administration will actually take serious action on this public health crisis.

Next, the plan indicates that EPA will work to classify two of the most well-known PFAS chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, as a hazardous substance under the Superfund statute, CERCLA. This is a necessary step in the right direction, but as enforcement actions have reached historically low levels at EPA, the agency must make sure that the Office of Land and Emergency Management has the staff and resources available to adequately remediate PFAS contamination as quickly as possible and to hold the companies responsible for these releases accountable for paying for its cleanup. The highest level of scrutiny on industry is unlikely as Peter Wright, the nominee to run this office, will enter with hundreds of sites belonging to his former employer DowDuPont—formerly one of the major producers of PFOA. While he has recused himself from involvement on these sites, it is unclear whether agency ethics officials will hold him to his commitment.

EPA’s action plan claims it will add more PFAS to the Unregulated Contaminated Monitoring Rule (UCMR) program so that more monitoring can be done across the country. The plan gives no indication which PFAS will be added or if EPA will continue to use its voluntary guidance of 70 ppt as the threshold, which is arguably not protective enough. This will surely help us understand the scope of the problem, but unless the UCMR includes all PFAS in the class, we still won’t have a real grasp of the current situation and the cumulative exposure. And while knowing is half the battle, what EPA plans to do with that knowledge to help communities is even more critical. Communities that have already been dealing with water contamination, like many families on or near military installations, should be included in health studies and medical monitoring programs.

The plan also includes vague language about how the EPA will “explore data availability” for listing PFAS chemicals on the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). If EPA does indeed make this change, it would give us a better idea of where these chemicals are produced and released into the environment by making that data publicly available. The plan also includes a strategy for expanding research efforts, including developing new analytical methods and tools to “close the gap on the science as quickly as possible,” which would be very useful. Lastly, the plan includes improvements to communicating PFAS risks, including a toolbox that states and local communities can use to educate the public. Whether or not these toolkits will actually be a useful resource to states and local communities will depend on how well the EPA engages these groups at all stages of development.

What the plan fails to do

It doesn’t plan to regulate PFAS as a class of chemicals, but rather focuses on the two most prevalent and well-studied of the group: PFOA and PFOS. This means that there are still thousands of other chemicals in that same class entering our waterways without any repercussions. Indeed, if EPA was monitoring for all these chemicals rather than just those two, it is almost certain that far more drinking water systems would have contamination well above the current health advisory levels.

The word action is used a whopping 186 number of times in the EPA’s plan, yet the words “accountable” and “responsible parties” are only found a total of 3 and 8 times, respectively. It doesn’t mention how it will ensure that the responsible polluters, most notably 3M, DuPont, and Chemours (a DuPont spinoff) will be held accountable for decades of knowingly poisoning communities downstream of their facilities. Also absent from the action plan is how EPA will work with the Department of Defense to address contamination at many military sites, where it is only starting to be addressed.

While the plan goes into the areas of research that EPA wants to explore, it doesn’t mention how it will help to fill the research gaps needed on the thousands of other PFAS that it has itself allowed on the market without proving safety. This research is necessary in order to regulate these chemicals properly. Additionally, PFAS-containing firefighting foams, one of the biggest sources of PFAS contamination, are now being disposed of at military sites by incineration, the safety of which has not been thoroughly tested. And putting these foams or byproducts in landfills so that they can leach back into the groundwater near communities who are already bearing a chemical burden isn’t a feasible solution either. EPA needs to dedicate funding to research into safe methods of disposal so that getting rid of these chemicals doesn’t turn out to be even more dangerous than keeping them around.

Talking about action to clean up PFAS is one thing, but EPA must accompany its actions with a more genuine commitment to move away from the use of PFAS as a class. The health effects of these chemicals have been known about for decades, yet the federal agencies have sat on the science and allowed thousands of these chemicals to enter the market, the waterways, and our bloodstreams. It’s high time that more action is taken on the front-end to prove that these chemicals are safe so that individuals living downstream of manufacturers and on or near military bases are not the ones who bear the burden of proving their harm. Wheeler could learn a thing or two about actual action from the states who have taken the lead on protecting their residents from PFAS contamination thanks to the pressure applied by the many community groups across the country.

The man with the plan

After revealing the plan at today’s press conference, Wheeler told the crowd of concerned members of the public and reporters that “Americans count on the EPA every time they turn on their faucet,” and that the agency was “stepping up to provide the leadership the public needs and deserves.” He’s right. We do count on the EPA, but sadly, this administration’s anti-science track record means that our trust in the agency has plummeted. And this action plan doesn’t give me any more confidence in its commitment to keep us safe.

Being that today is Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think about trust and relationships. Relationship experts usually say that a good way to learn about someone is to look at the company they keep. It’s hard to have confidence that the same man who lobbied on behalf of a coal company for years as it advocated for fewer regulations could be genuinely serious about more strictly regulating a whole class of profitable chemicals. Wheeler also just appointed science advisors whose opinions lie outside the mainstream, including one woman who has actually testified on behalf of 3M in defense of PFAS.

Another piece of advice that relationship experts espouse is that you should never go into a relationship expecting that a person will change: they are who they are. I have no reason to believe that Acting Administrator Wheeler will prove them wrong and go from coal industry lobbyist to champion of public health, which is why senators should think long and hard about their votes when it comes time to confirm him as Administrator.

This wishy-washy plan demands strong congressional oversight. Take meaningful action today by contacting your members of congress to urge them to join the recently created PFAS task force (and scientists- you can use your expertise to encourage Congressional oversight here).

People are the Purpose of Science

Nakala was only four months old, a chubby and cherubic baby, when I saw her that summer for a routine check up at our pediatric clinic in Flint. Her mom Grace told me she was going to stop breastfeeding. That didn’t surprise me. I tried to convince her otherwise, but for young moms in Flint, it’s often regarded as a complicated hassle — and hard to do when you’re struggling to hold down a job.

Grace planned to mix powdered formula with tap water for Nakala. She asked me pointedly if the Flint water was okay for that.

“Sure,” I said without hesitation. “Don’t waste your money on bottled water.”

It was August, 2015. I’d heard some news reports of citizen protests about the drinking water; it had become background noise. As a pediatrician, all I had to go on, besides the fact that it was twenty-first century America, was what the other experts, the scientists who worked for the state, had to say.

And they were adamant. Oh yes. They were cocksure and confident — repeatedly issuing statements that there was no room for doubt. The tap water in Flint was fine. The mayor had even gone on TV, turned on a Flint faucet — and drank some.

What is science for?

Scientists like to talk about what they are “solving for” in their work. In classrooms all over the world, students are told that the purpose of science is “explaining and predicting our world.”

Is that enough?

I don’t think so. Not after what I discovered that summer in 2015. Explaining the world isn’t enough. Predicting isn’t either. In my book about the Flint water crisis, What the Eyes Don’t See, I share the story of how the most egregious present-day example of science denial unfolded — and how the government scientists knew that a powerful neurotoxic, lead, was present in the Flint water for months, but did nothing. Instead, they hoped their expertise and titles would shield their lies from being exposed. In Flint, ignoring science led to the poisoning of an entire city’s water system.

It pains me that so many of the people who should have been looking out for the children of Flint, but who failed them instead, were scientists: doctors, epidemiologists and engineers. I know it seems an exaggeration to compare what happened in Michigan to something as terrible as the Nazi doctors who participated in the Holocaust, or the scientists involved in Tuskegee syphilis study, or the military psychiatrists who participated in torture.

But is it all that different?

Our children cannot afford to have science and scientists shut their eyes, look away, and stay silent to injustices.

Solving for human progress

In What the Eyes Don’t See, I reflect on the work of some groundbreaking scientists — primarily the big troublemakers of public health, Alice Hamilton and John Snow. Rather than going along with consensus or standing on the sidelines, they were passionately involved in their communities. Their work wasn’t about abstract scientific discovery alone. It was about people and community, working in partnership.

That is what science should be about — and what scientists should be solving for. It isn’t just an academic exercise for the ivory tower, to rack up publications, grants, and offers of tenure. Sure, being able to increase our understanding of the world around us is essential. And making better predictions is crucial. Without question, scientific advances are a foundation of modern civilization and economy. But as twentieth-century history illustrates so well, scientific advances aren’t limited to wonders such as antibiotics. It also includes such evils as nuclear weapons. The consequences of advances in science, and the application of technology, cannot be divorced from scientific discovery.

Discoveries alone aren’t enough. Science should be solving for human progress. The promise of science is how people and communities – and the environment – benefit from scientific inquiry and innovation.

Simply put, the purpose of science must be to do good. And a logical extension is that the paramount mission of all scientists is to be charged with doing good. No matter what articles of faith obstruct the path. No matter how far we have to step from the comfort of classrooms, hospitals, laboratories, and campuses. Scientists must be constructive participants in the communities that we are privileged to serve, and do this in a spirit of humble partnership, walking and working together, shoulder to shoulder.

The point is people

The face of Nakala kept returning to me in the months that passed — throughout the stressful and contentious remainder of 2015, throughout the lawsuits, charges and trials that unfolded after the Flint Water Crisis was exposed.

Nakala’s face still comes to me now, three years later, whenever I’m asked if the tap water in Flint is finally okay to drink.

Speaking science to power should be part of the mission of the doctor, the researcher, the academic — all scientists everywhere. Disrupting the status quo for disruption’s sake alone is not enough. We should be elevating human life and protecting the environment.

Scientific education, be it in medical, engineering, natural or physical science, often misses this point. Graduate schools and scientific organizations tend to educate, and only educate, and wait for others to blow the whistle in the name of public health and the environment.

The point of a science education — any science education — should be about people. And not en masse, as a statistic, but person to person. It should be about benefiting lives, doing good, improving outcomes. There should be more training in communications, public speaking, and policy-making so scientists can be better communicators and advocates of our discoveries and the benefits.

Inclusion and diversity are a critical part of all this, not just as restorative justice, but as a means to connect to the higher purpose of science, which need to benefit more people and more places. The recipients of scientific advances have to extend beyond the rich and white. And the injustices associated with industry and technology must also not fall disproportionately on the poor and brown.

Science was an integral part of what happened in Flint – and is still happening. Ignoring science was a cause of the water crisis. Embracing science was how the fight to reveal the lies and cover-ups was won. And now, it is leading the city to solutions. The emerging science of child development and brain plasticity are helping to build resilience in our kids like Nakala, to buffer the impact of the crisis and create a playbook of hope for children everywhere.

My hope is that Flint will serve as a lesson of the consequences of science denial, and also of the incredible power that science and scientists hold – in beakers and at the bedside – to be catalysts for good.

Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician, scientist, and professor in Flint, Michigan. She is the founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative. She is author of the 2018 New York Times 100 Notable Book and NPR’s Science Friday Best Science Book of 2018, “What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance and Hope in an American City.”

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.

How the Government Shutdown Shredded Indian Health Services

Photo: Wikimedia commons

The end of the partial government shutdown last month could not have come soon enough for Native Americans. For them, shutdown equaled full insult.

In President Trump’s attempt to wall off brown immigrants, the shutdown walled in America’s first peoples. That became clear with every report coming out of Native American lands as the president held federal services hostage to his fantasy of a border wall against Latin America.

In Navajo Nation in the Southwest, leaders told the New York Times that snowed-in roads went unplowed for days because Bureau of Indian Affairs staff were furloughed. The conditions blocked residents from making essential trips of up to 100 miles to procure basic needs, including medicine, until unpaid Navajo Nation employees were able to finally clear the roads.

Also in Navajo Nation, the Associated Press wrote about a 68-year-old woman who underwent eye surgery but could not get a referral from furloughed Indian Health Service (IHS) staff to deal with high pressure in her eye. In Minnesota, the Red Lake Nation told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that it suspended construction of a dialysis center.

On January 10, Native American Lifelines, an IHS health care contractor, announced the immediate suspension of dental services, and curtailment of financial assistance programs and ride share services, except in emergencies. Lifelines Executive Director Kerry Hawk Lessard told MedPage Today that the suspension meant halting addiction counseling and advocacy for lonely seniors hospitalized with severe illnesses. She also told the Washington Post: “We have thus far had to deny purchase of care requests that are critical to chronic-care management—insulin, blood pressure medication, thyroid medication and antibiotics—thus impacting the quality of life for the individuals we serve.”

Another unjust abrogation of the federal government’s obligations

During the shutdown, which ended January 25, 60 percent of the IHS workforce—some 9,000 employees—worked without pay to serve 2.3 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The Huffington Post featured Anpetu Luta Hoksila, a 35-year-old Native American psychologist from the Indian Health Service who is considered by the government to be “essential,” and thus is providing care without pay in Arizona. Hoksila said if the shutdown persists, he will quit the service to become a barista to pay the bills, noting: “On some level, it’s kind of pitiful, but I don’t care.”

It is more than pitiful what the shutdown did to Indian Country. It was yet another unjust abrogation of the federal government’s obligations to its original peoples. Just before the shutdown began last month, the US Commission on Civil Rights issued a report appropriately titled, “Broken Promises.” It said that despite the 375 treaties signed by tribes that were supposed to result in unique federal support of services in exchange for forced removals and relinquishing of land, the US government has “chronically underfunded” Native American health programs.

Despite chronic health disparities of many kinds suffered by Native Americans, per-person health care expenditures for the Indian Health Service (IHS) in 2017 was only a third that of federal health care spending nationwide. By further comparison, the National Tribal Budget Formulation Group, which makes recommendations to the IHS, said in a report last April that the budget of the Veterans Administration is 14 times that of the IHS while serving only four times the population.

This is particularly appalling since this is old news. The same commission published a report in 2003 that said, “The federal government spends less per capita on Native American health care than on any other group for which it has this responsibility, including Medicaid recipients, prisoners, veterans, and military personnel.” The underfunding has persisted for so long that the backlog for new health care facilities in Indian Country has reached $10 billion. To achieve health care parity, the tribal formulation group and the National Congress of American Indians say the current annual agency budget of a little over $5 billion needs to be increased to $32 billion by 2030.

“Our Indian communities are combating ongoing historical trauma not unlike that of untreated PTSD due to war experiences,” the tribal budget group said. “We have patients who have lost limbs due to untreated diabetes or unintentional injuries associated with the third world environments in which we live. Health care is rationed and expectations for quality care in outdated facilities and equipment are so low that patients have nearly lost all hope . . .The message is clear: the Indian Health System has failed its mission.”

“It’s like doing your job with both hands tied behind your back and blindfolded.”

The shutdown is a dangerous reminder of how thin the agency is stretched in normal times. Last year a report from the Government Accountability Office found that on average:

  • One out of every three and, in some areas, every other IHS physician position goes vacant
  • A quarter of nursing positions are vacant, and up to a third in some areas
  • A third of nurse practitioner positions are vacant, and up to half in some areas

Mary Smith, an acting director of the IHS during the Obama administration, and currently a health care consultant and secretary of the American Bar Association, fears that the shutdown exacerbated the difficulty the service has in attracting committed talent (a parallel to the multitude of federal scientists who wonder if government service is worth the current political instability). Despite its struggles, the service has successfully engaged communities to cut kidney failure from diabetes 54 percent since 1996.

“Forget doing your job with one hand tied behind your back,” said Mary Smith, an acting IHS director during the Obama administration. “It’s like doing your job with both hands tied behind your back and blindfolded.”

During the shutdown, the system’s already grave problems led the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Michigan to issue a press release saying, “People will die because of the shutdown.” The shutdown fortunately ended before reaching that point, at least based on a lack of news reports, but with disproportionate levels of dire illness, distance to care, and under-funded programs that the shutdown ceased altogether, it is much too easy to consider scenarios where another shutdown indeed could cost lives. If there were to be another shutdown, it is imperative that health services to Native Americans be exempt from closure.

In an ominous double-whammy of an example, the Associated Press cited the case of Michelle Begay, who was furloughed from an administrative position at the IHS, then had no health insurance because her application was held up by the shutdown. Begay came down with bronchitis. She paid $600 out of pocket to be treated a first time. When the bronchitis came back, she had to call for three days to get an appointment at an IHS clinic. She told the AP, “I was very fortunate. My situation was treatable. My lung didn’t collapse, that’s what they were really concerned about. But, still, I had to wait two, almost three days to be seen.”

Begay waited at risk of lung collapse, a psychologist threatened to become a barista, and a senior could not get her eye pressure checked, all because Trump wants to erect a wall.

For decades, Native Americans have faced a wall to better health. It’s past time to tear that wall down.

Photo: Wikimedia commons

What to Watch for in Michigan’s State of the State Speech

Photo: Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

Next Tuesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer will give her first State of the State address as Michigan’s chief executive officer. It is a key opportunity for her to address climate change, infrastructure needs, and clean energy and water—all priorities Governor Whitmer emphasized during last year’s campaign.

Here’s what to look for.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Joining the U.S. Climate Alliance

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a group of states committed to upholding the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Look for Governor Whitmer to highlight this week’s executive directive adding Michigan to the Alliance and the growing number of states in this coalition, which includes Minnesota and now Illinois whose new Governor J.B. Pritzker announced would also join.

Creating a state office of climate change

Governor Whitmer is also likely to highlight another executive directive from this week creating a Michigan Office of Climate and Energy. This new office will work with the governor to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and embrace more sustainable energy solutions.

The sooner this new office can be up and running, the better, especially in light of the urgent and compelling need to act on climate change outlined in two key scientific reports released last year.

Infrastructure investments, clean water, and electric vehicles

Governor Whitmer’s campaign focused in on the need to improve Michigan’s infrastructure, including electric and heating systems in addition to roads, bridges, and clean drinking water. She also promised to “mak[e] sure Michigan has the edge in electric vehicles [that] will not only reduce carbon emissions, but create and protect jobs here in our state.” Ideally Governor Whitmer will outline specific goals and a policy agenda to further these critical needs and opportunities during her State of the State address.

Michigan is primed for further clean energy growth

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council recently named Michigan to its 2019 Clean Energy States Honor Roll as its “Emerging Clean Energy Leader.” This is well-deserved as the Michigan Public Service Commission has launched several stakeholder processes to address regulatory policies facilitating integration of solar power in the state, including community solar and rooftop solar.

In addition, last year Michigan’s two major electric utilities both announced important carbon reduction and clean energy goals. Many of the state’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants have been retired, and there are plans to close additional polluting facilities in the coming years. Both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have integrated resource plan dockets filed or to be filed in 2019 that, as I wrote about in my blog post last month, will be key items to watch on how the utilities plan to follow through on their goals.

As a candidate, Governor Whitmer signed on to the Clean Energy for All Campaign, which asks candidates to commit to a vision where the United States runs on 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Governor Whitmer’s leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency can help build on the state’s clean energy momentum and ensure Michiganders are benefiting from cleaner air and water, more affordable energy bills, and expanded economic development. I look forward to hearing how her remarks on Tuesday night will further the clean energy transition.

Photo: Terry Johnston/Wikimedia Commons

Kids and Mercury Don’t Mix. You Have 60 Days to Tell the Trump Administration.

Photo: EPA/Flickr

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is true to his word. With a masterful sense of timing and irony, the EPA has announced that on Thursday, February 7, it will publish its proposal to revise (read: roll back) the agency’s own supplemental finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) from coal and oil-fired power plants.

The new proposal’s bottom line: Regulating mercury and hazardous air pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act is no longer “appropriate and necessary.” It’s just too costly, they insist. (For more details and background on this travesty, see my prior commentary here and here.)

The timing and the irony

Thursday’s publication of the proposal in the Federal Register opens a 60-day public comment period on what is just the administration’s latest effort to roll back public health protections. Indeed, the president proudly touted his efforts to cut regulations in his State of the Union speech earlier this week. Lost on the administration, but not lost on the public, is the fact that most regulations are actually safeguards that protect our health and safety, along with the cleanliness and safety of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the medications we take, the products we buy, and more.

The very night before the EPA’s announcement, the president was spouting compassion and concern for our health, and for children’s health in particular, which makes the timing of this move particularly ironic. Less than 24 hours after the president’s address, the EPA made good on its intention to no longer consider regulating mercury and hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil-powered power plants as “appropriate and necessary.” If the administration is seriously concerned about children’s health, why in heaven’s name take aim at limits on mercury emissions, a potent neurotoxin?

The EPA’s job is to protect our health and the environment. That’s its mission, which the agency still acknowledges it on its website. And the EPA is supposed to rely on the best available science when making regulatory and policy decisions. This proposal takes the opposite approach; EPA political leadership has decided to throw science and common sense out the window. The public interest seems relegated to the back seat, while powerful private and industrial interests take the wheel. It’s part of an ongoing pattern by the Trump administration during its first two years in office; you can see it all in our new report, “The State of Science in the Trump Era.”

Time to weigh in: Our voices matter

Acting Administrator Wheeler has been nominated to replace Scott Pruitt as the agency’s full-time administrator. His nomination has already passed out of committee by a narrow margin and will go to the full Senate for a vote sometime soon.

With this latest proposal, Wheeler, a former lobbyist for coal companies, has made it clear that he’s happy to sideline science and evidence when it doesn’t comport with a political preference. Let your senators know that this is not OK—and that you want, expect, and deserve an EPA leader who works for us and who respects and is guided by science when making agency decisions.

And with the public comment period opening on Thursday for this particular proposal, you now have 60 days to let the EPA know we are not fooled by its wonky little revision. It’s a crafty, nasty, and dangerous proposal that could roll back current safeguards and undermine future public health and environmental protections.

In the weeks to come, scientists and everyone concerned about public health will have a chance to comment on this important proposal. We’ll keep you updated on how you can most effectively weigh in and will continue to provide information and resources to help inform comments.

This is a critical moment to raise your voice. The clock is now ticking.

Photo: EPA/Flickr

Two Years in, and the State of Our Union Is Weakened—but It’ll Be Strong Again

We are now midway through the Trump administration, and the state of our union—while far too fractured and polarized to be judged strong—has, at least, proven resilient. The key institutions we count on—a free media, an independent judiciary, vigorous NGOs, strong governors and state attorneys general, and opposition representatives in Congress—have, for the most part, held the line and stemmed the damage that might have been inflicted by the wrecking ball that is the Trump presidency.

At the same time as our “old guard” institutions have held the line, a “new guard” is moving the line and changing the terms of the debate. People-powered activism is surging nationwide, and groups such as Indivisible, the Parkland students, and the Sunrise Movement captivate our imagination and demand attention with stirring ideas such as the “Green New Deal.”

Even the recent shutdown over the border wall, while a stunning example of government dysfunction that caused needless suffering, may have set a helpful precedent. How so? The border wall started out as a mnemonic device for a fledgling presidential candidate and became a symbol of toughness on immigration to Mr. Trump’s base. What it never was shown to be was an effective solution for border security. And when a policy, particularly one that involves billions of taxpayer dollars, cannot be supported by the evidence, and when there is an opposition party that will not suspend its disbelief out of blind loyalty to the president, such a policy will usually fail. That is the primary lesson of the shutdown, and one that President Trump’s administration would do well to learn if he wishes to salvage a failing presidency.

So, the question for UCS is this: How do we intend to operate in this landscape for the next two years?

Remain vigilant, but focus less on legislative defense

Two years ago, many of us reasonably feared that the president and his allies in Congress would enact what I have often referred to as “scorched earth” laws that would weaken key environmental safeguards, and restrict the ability of government scientists to do their vital work. Many of these bills had been passed by Congress but vetoed by President Obama, and we reasonably feared that they would be passed again by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.

Fortunately, for the most part this did not happen due to Senate Democrats working together to block noxious legislation. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort, supported by the work of many, including UCS, and it produced good results. Now, with a new majority in the House of Representatives that seems guided by science and motivated by constituencies who value clean air and water, it seems highly unlikely that such legislation will pass. For UCS, this means that some of the resources devoted to legislative defense can be deployed for other purposes.

Counter executive action

However, because Mr. Trump’s agenda will be stymied in Congress, it is also likely that he will double down on executive action.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these gambits lie in foreign policy, an area presidents often turn to when their domestic agendas are blocked. President Trump has already inflicted damage on our standing in the world and relationships with allies by seeking to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. Now he has announced the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, with the potential risk of unraveling other arms accords, such as the New Start Treaty which expires in 2021 unless extended. There is no obvious way to counter these actions, at least in the short term, but we and others can and will challenge these actions.

On the domestic front, we will continue to see the president attempt to impose his will even when he cannot get Congress behind it. An example is the recently-announced effort to impose punitive work requirements on recipients of the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) after Congress chose not to include these requirements when it passed the farm bill in late 2018. As UCS experts have noted, the Department of Agriculture is now charging forward with a proposal that makes it harder for states (that have high unemployment rates and other barriers) to waive work requirements, thereby disqualifying many hungry Americans from accessing food through the program.

On top of new efforts such as cutting SNAP eligibility, the Trump administration will scurry to complete final rules eviscerating climate change policies. His administration will keep forcing rollbacks of proactive climate policies such as fuel economy standards and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, threatening public health by changing the formula for conducting cost-benefit analyses, stacking federal advisory boards with industry representatives, and limiting how scientific evidence can be used by federal agencies. These may be the only remaining “wins” Mr. Trump will be able to secure, and they are highlighted well in this recent UCS report.

UCS, and others, have fought hard against these rollbacks, soliciting thousands of comments of concern on these regulations before they’re finalized. What will most effectively derail the deregulation train? The nation’s courts. Courts are fact-based forums: when an administration makes spurious claims, they can expect skepticism from federal courts, particularly because the administrative record, as added to by UCS and others, contains the grounds to tear such arguments apart.

Take advantage of new oversight opportunities

In addition to litigation, we now have a new tool in countering excesses—Congressional oversight. Our elected officials can—and should—expose malfeasance and cronyism, rouse public opinion, and block misguided executive branch initiatives.

The challenge is that there is much material to work with—the US House committees that conduct any review of the Trump administration’s actions since taking office will need to be judicious. While there will be many competing demands, part of the new Congress’s agenda must be devoted to investigating regulatory rollbacks. We will be prepared to assist Congress in the legwork that goes into making oversight effective.

Examples of Congressional oversight that could be particularly illuminating include investigating:

  • The nefarious role that oil companies may have played in convincing the Trump administration to weaken fuel economy standards further than even the car companies wished;
  • The EPA’s decision to jerry-rig its cost-benefit analysis to minimize the benefits of regulations that Trump campaign contributors such as Murray Energy oppose;
  • The true facts about whether proposed missile defense systems actually work in real-world testing.
Perfect our science-based policies and build a coalition to support them

The next two years also give us time to lay the groundwork for 2020 and beyond. In part, we can start this by pushing for relatively modest measures that have bipartisan support now. Examples include funding increases for clean energy R&D, extensions of popular tax incentives for wind and solar energy, and broadening current incentives for deploying more energy storage and electric vehicles. And, if there’s a national infrastructure bill, UCS will push for “green” components, such as transmission lines that connect renewable energy to population centers and building EV charging stations.

But more importantly, we can use these next two years to draw up “rough drafts” of more ambitious legislation to solve our greatest challenges. Lawmakers can get feedback from stakeholders, for example, and continue to build public support for science-based policies so that when change happens again in Washington, we as a nation are ready to act decisively on climate change.

In addition to climate legislation, we should also lay the groundwork for ambitious action on nuclear weapons, including a bill to prohibit the US from launching a first use of nuclear weapons and/or restrict the president’s sole authority to launch a nuclear strike. We’ll be ready to inject these ideas into the next presidential debates, and educate a new cadre of legislators, as well as mobilize the public around them. We should also anticipate opportunities around—and lay the groundwork for—bills to protect scientific integrity and restore hollowed-out federal agencies.

Drive change at the state level

The polarized and dysfunctional state of the federal government likely won’t get better without a new election. But at the state level, there are abundant opportunities to make progress now. On the West Coast, all three governors and their legislatures can continue to show leadership on climate change—and California must begin the hard work of implementing the goals it set under Governor Brown. States like New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have new governors who recognized the value of clean energy in their campaigns, and these states are poised to adopt ambitious climate goals, aided by ample and inexpensive supplies of renewable energy. And on the East Coast, nine states and Washington, DC, just pledged to create a “cap and invest” program to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector—the largest source of emissions. These local governments can make good on their pledge in 2019 and transition their states to clean transportation.

So, at this two-year mark, we have a weakened president, a resurgent House of Representatives, new governors committed to state-level progress, and an engaged and mobilized public. So, while I cannot call our state of the union strong at this moment, I see clear signs that in less time than I might have anticipated two years ago, our state of the union will be strong again.

Photo: Wikimedia

Will the Real State of the Union Please Stand Up? 7 Things President Trump Won’t Say

A great public servant and one of my mentors, William Ruckelshaus, always emphasized to me that the State of the Union was a time to put big ideas on the table, to talk about the truly great challenges facing the country, and to provide leadership for what we as a nation needed to do to live up to the ideals of our democracy. New education initiatives, cleaning up pollution, providing health care—these are some of the big ideas that previous presidents have talked about on this national stage.

Call me crazy but I don’t think that is what we will hear from President Trump.

Instead we’re likely to hear misdirection and falsehoods. According to the Washington Post, President Trump has made 8,158 false or misleading claims during his first two years in office. Even if by some miracle he sticks to actual facts during his State of the Union address, it’s a safe bet that he won’t address many of the most crucial challenges facing America. Instead he’s likely to tout the strong economy, while ignoring rising inequality and continuing losses for everyone but the wealthy. He’ll rail about border security, while dismissing the real security threats highlighted by his intelligence agencies. And he will talk about jobs, while ignoring worker safety and threats to public health.

What should be in the speech are some of the truly great challenges we need to tackle as a nation. We need a real change in direction and focus from this administration, and so I will be watching the speech live, tweeting the #RealSOTU, and calling for this nation to face up to the truth.

Here are seven BIG things that President Trump won’t say in his 2019 State of the Union speech.

Rolling back regulations hurts people

President Trump and his appointed agency heads have cut down landmark public protections that we all depend on for our health and safety, and sidelining science has consistently been one of their go-to strategies to accomplish it.

Rolling back regulations that reduce air pollution, water pollution, toxic contamination, worker protections, and more might give windfall profits to some companies. But those profits come at public expense. And who’s bearing the brunt of those impacts and costs? Poorer communities and communities of color.

That all needs to stop, right now.

And right now, with a new Congress in place there is a renewed opportunity to call on our elected officials to represent their constituents and to hold the Trump administration accountable. The administration should be doing its job of serving the public, not special interests.

We need policies that treat our people equitably, that require those who pollute to clean up their mess regardless of what neighborhood they are located in. And we need our government to hold polluters to account. Mr. President, do you want to make real change?  Then work for the people who need the government’s help. That isn’t the oil and gas or chemical industry.

We have one decade left to avoid catastrophic climate change

We have about a decade left to dramatically reduce carbon pollution and avoid truly catastrophic climate change impacts, including unprecedented and life-threatening heat waves, the loss of millions of coastal homes to rising seas, and a growing number of extreme and damaging weather events.

The IPCC’s recent special report and the Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment (NCA4) both tell us that climate change is already affecting all of us, and that right now we are speeding down one of the most costly and damaging paths possible.

Whether it’s national security, natural disasters, the military, the economy, immigration, or any other number of issues, there’s one thing Trump will surely fail to recognize in his speech: Climate change affects all of them.

Consider, for example, the 2018 report on the vulnerability of military installations to climate-related impacts, which showed that about 10 percent of sites are being affected by extreme temperatures, and some six percent are affected by flooding due to storm surge and by wildfire. Or the 2019 worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community, which identifies climate change as a national security risk.  Or how the NCA4 finds that existing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure are already being impacted by heavy rainfall, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, drought, wildfire, heat waves, and other weather and climate events.

The last two years of natural disasters and extreme weather brought huge costs to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are also part and parcel of a warming climate, and our economy—indeed our very future—depends on the country getting deadly serious about the climate crisis right now.

Coal is dying and renewables are booming. Not fast enough.

Our electricity system is moving away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Today coal produces only a quarter of our nation’s electricity, down from 50 percent a short dozen years ago. That’s an encouraging trend, but we still need faster progress and more ambitious policies to achieve the emissions cuts needed to meet the climate crisis head on.

The Trump administration is instead doing everything it can think of to try and prop up the failing coal industry. It’s not working, and coal is still on it way out, but President Trump is still wasting precious time that would be much better spent on ramping up clean energy across the country.

In his speech, Trump will also likely ignore the remarkable economic benefits of renewable energy, especially that the US clean energy industry means jobs, with already more than 100,000 working in the wind sector, 250,000 working in solar, and more than 2 million making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. And the nascent US offshore wind sector offers the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs up and down our coasts.

The administration is moving full speed backwards on transportation emissions

Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in the US, making it more important than ever to increase the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks and reduce the amount of planet-warming emissions we’re putting into the atmosphere. (Plus I like saving money—and driving a cleaner, more fuel-efficient car helps consumers do that as well.)

The president and his administration, however, are still moving ahead with their plans to roll back fuel economy and emissions standards for cars and trucks and halt progress on reducing emissions from the transportation sector.

My colleagues cranked the numbers on what this rollback would mean and it is truly staggering, especially when it’s taken together with the administration’s threat to void state regulations on vehicle emissions. As senior UCS vehicles analyst Dave Cooke points out, rolling back these standards will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global warming emissions by 2040—that’s 170 million metric tons in 2040 alone, equivalent to keeping 43 coal-fired power plants online. These inefficient cars and trucks will use an additional 200 billion gallons of gasoline by 2040—that’s as much oil as we’ve imported from the Persian Gulf since the standards were first finalized in 2010. And it will cost consumers hundreds of billions of dollars—in 2040 alone, consumers will spend an additional $55 billion at the pump if these standards are rolled back.

It’s a safe bet that the president won’t mention any of this. And, for good measure, he will also likely fail to mention his desire to get rid of the electric vehicle tax credit, which makes it easier and more affordable to buy a cleaner car.

Fossil fuel companies are responsible, but still getting special treatment

Trump definitely won’t bring up the fact that fossil fuel companies have known for at least 50 years that their products—oil, gas, and coal—cause global warming. Or that companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron have spent decades and millions of dollars intentionally manufacturing doubt about climate science and lobbying to block sensible climate policy—and are still playing dirty even today as the costs of climate change grow.

Just this past fall, BP poured $13 million into a campaign opposing a carbon pricing measure in Washington state—while simultaneously publicly claiming to support a carbon tax. Other major fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, still fund industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to do their dirty work lobbying for anti-climate policies.

Meanwhile regular people living through the disruptive impacts of climate change are currently paying for it with their tax dollars. All while fossil fuel companies continue to cash in, plan for and envision minimal disruption to their business models, and avoid paying their fair share of the costs of climate change.

The administration is betraying farmers, workers, and children

Regulatory rollbacks and putting profits over the interests of the public don’t just affect pollution and the environment. They also impact the food we eat and the people who bring it to us, from farm to fork.

In his speech, Trump won’t mention that he and his Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have repeatedly favored ideology and the agribusiness industry while disregarding science—but that’s exactly what UCS has found. This not only restricts the products and practices that would make us healthier but also ignores the very people who feed us. Small farmers, workers, and children all lose when the administration betrays their interests for the profits of big agribusiness companies, from chemical giant Dow to multinational poultry and pork conglomerates.

Rolling back school lunch rules for the nation’s children or threatening to deny food assistance to immigrant families and low-wage workers is not worthy of this nation. Undermining the USDA’s research agencies, catering to the chemical industry, and waging a disastrous trade war threatens the future for farmers, consumers, and communities.

What the country needs is a food policy that supports public health, ensures that everyone gets the nutrition they need, and reduces the impact of agriculture on the environment and the planet.

Investing massive amounts of money in nuclear weapons is just wrong

Spending over a trillion dollars to re-build the entire nuclear arsenal while walking away from highly successful nuclear arms agreements with Russia is, well, a really bad idea. So is saying that one’s nuclear button is bigger. But the president probably won’t admit that, or indicate that doing so would take the country backwards and greatly increase the chance of nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons still pose an existential threat to our nation and the world. We should be doing all we can to reduce that threat, not just “win” another arms race. Instead the administration just announced that it plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty—an agreement negotiated by President Ronald Reagan which eliminated a whole class of lethal weaponry and made the world a much safer place.

Bellicose rhetoric and building newer, more enhanced nuclear weapons won’t lessen the danger either. We need to be leading the world to reduce the nuclear arsenals, not increasing the odds of nuclear war.

Share the #RealSOTU

It can be hard to listen to the president when we’ve learned to expect an avoidance of essential truths like these.

But I’ll be watching his speech nonetheless, live-tweeting using the #RealSOTU hashtag, and highlighting some of the crucial facts that the president will not.

I hope you can join me.

EPA’s Administrator Must Be Serious About Protecting Us From PFAS. Wheeler Is Not.

After Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing for the agency’s top job earlier this month, he responded to a long list of questions for the record that had been submitted by senators. In the questions related to the class of toxic chemicals, PFAS, Wheeler claimed that “EPA continues to take concrete steps, in cooperation with our federal and state partners, to address PFAS and ensure all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water.” Yet, Politico reported earlier this week that the agency will not be setting an enforceable limit for the two most prevalent PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, in drinking water. The 70 ppt health advisory will remain in effect for the chemicals, but without regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, water utilities do not have to regularly test for or remove the toxins from our water. So what is Wheeler referring to when he mentions “concrete steps” and clean and safe drinking water for all? As Acting Administrator, Wheeler has done a whole lot of talking about “action” while affected communities across the country continue to struggle with contaminated water sources and associated health issues. In fact, as EPA stalls on its action plan (scheduled to be released in December and now at least a month late), even more cases of contamination along with more questions on how to manage these “forever chemicals” are arising.

Additionally, in his six months serving as Acting Administrator, Wheeler has had ample opportunity to be transparent about what went on at the EPA during interagency review of ATSDR’s report on PFAS last year. Yet questions still remain on the conflicts of interest at hand as internal emails hint at former American Chemistry Council staffer and current Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Nancy Beck, working on matters (like PFAS) that affect her former employer. Representatives from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to Acting Administrator Wheeler just this Tuesday asking him for answers regarding EPA’s involvement in stalling the release of the ATSDR’s toxicological profile on PFAS.

As the Senate Environment and Public Works committee gears up to vote on Acting Administrator Wheeler’s nomination next week, senators should think about the wants and needs of their constituents. Clean water is certainly at or near the top. There is a reason that the PFAS task force just formed by members of the House of Representatives is bipartisan. Water contamination from PFAS does not discriminate based on party affiliation. It knows no geographic bounds.

PFAS contamination has been found at military sites across 37 states (Source: UCS 2018).

Not only does it seep from manufacturing facilities and military bases (see figure above from our recent fact sheet), but from household products that we use every day, like pans, microwave popcorn bags, and treated carpets. EPA has the power to act but based on what we’ve seen from Wheeler so far on climate, scientific integrity, and now chemicals, it’s unlikely that he is the leader that we so desperately need to put meaning behind the “Protection” in Environmental Protection Agency.

Some senators have already expressed their concerns about Acting Administrator Wheeler’s lack of action on PFAS. Senator Cory Gardner, a key swing vote on Wheeler’s nomination, wants to see federal action and said, “I think it’s very important that we get as much information as we can and then act appropriately.” West Virginia senator Shelly Moore Capito, who sits on the committee overseeing Wheeler’s nomination, expressed concerns about EPA’s actions on PFAS earlier this week but is now supportive despite all signs pointing to him not being the right person to lead the agency.

Other senators from key states are also concerned about the agency’s lack of action. That’s why now is the time to ask both of your senators to vote no on Acting Administrator Wheeler’s confirmation. You can call the Senate switchboard and ask to be put in touch with your senators at (202) 224-3121.

Photo: Alex Edelman/AP Images

Independent Science Takes Another Hit at the EPA: New Science Advisory Board Members Announced

The EPA released the names of eight new members of its Science Advisory Board (SAB) yesterday. The verdict? In general Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is continuing the trend of undermining the independence and quality of scientific advice to the EPA, though he does deserve some credit for reappointing several well-qualified scientists to the SAB and breaking with his predecessor who saw no value in continued expertise.

Wheeler has refused, however, to rescind Pruitt’s nonsensical directive to ban scientists with EPA funding from serving on the board and has appointed individuals whose scientific work is considered outside the mainstream in various scientific disciplines. University researchers are now in the minority on the board, while the number of industry-affiliated members and members listed as consultants has increased (see figure below).

Meet some of the new board members

Take Dr. John Christy. He has a reputation for controversial climate research and denying the evidence of global warming. Christy was also a supporter of Pruitt’s proposed red-team, blue-team debate on the reality of climate change.

Then there’s Dr. Brant Ulsh, a consultant who argues that radiation at low doses isn’t a big deal, contrary to the conclusions of the National Academies of Science.

New member Dr. Richard Williams has been a member of the American Chemistry Council’s formaldehyde panel, which was set up to obfuscate the health impacts of this carcinogen. He is also on the Board of Trustees of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an industry-funded organization that is notorious for pushing out shoddy nutrition science.

Dr. Barbara Beck is a consultant with Gradient, which has itself earned a reputation for helping industry defend their products with favorable scientific studies. Beck herself helped write a paper arguing that exposure to lead at low doses is not necessarily harmful to children, which is in stark contrast to the CDC’s assessment that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. In 2017 Beck provided testimony for 3M in a Minnesota case on the toxic chemical PFAS, finding that “the toxicity and drinking water criteria developed by US EPA and MDH could be higher and still be health-protective” and that “there is no reliable evidence” that people in the target area were being harmed by PFAS, even though it was plagued by higher rates of cancer than surrounding areas.

The common thread among these individuals (and those appointed in the last round as well) is that they are practitioners of the widely used “disinformation playbook.” They frequently work to inject uncertainty into the discourse on scientific topics on which most experts agree, by criticizing risk assessments and underlying models, and in practice arguing that exposure to pollutants at low doses is not worth worrying about.

The changing makeup of the EPA Science Advisory Board

As the body that reviews EPA science that informs the agency’s regulations, the SAB is supposed to represent the breadth of expertise of researchers who are regularly publishing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, a sector which overlaps greatly with the academic community. Since the start of the Trump administration, the number of members from universities has decreased by 43 percent, while the number of industry representatives has tripled and consultants has increased eight times (see above figure).

The decline in SAB members from universities, resulting in part thanks to the EPA’s nonsensical grants directive, means the EPA will be missing out on advice from the most qualified experts on topics applicable to EPA work. Wheeler’s press release boasts that there is now representation from 30 states. But expertise isn’t supposed to be representative of geography. After all, a toxic chemical is no less harmful in Texas than it is in New York. What has been sacrificed is the integrity of the SAB.

Scientists on the SAB should be providing an independent check on the work of the EPA, not using their positions to push fringe scientific views or further a specific policy agenda at the agency. It’s a shame that the independence and quality of the SAB is being so badly decimated at a time when oversight at the EPA is sorely needed to ensure that science is being used to inform policies that should be protecting Americans and our environment. Further, these membership changes are part of a general trend of the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on science and sidelining of science advice, as was most recently displayed by the EPA in disbanding the particulate matter panel of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).

Hans von Spakovsky Lies about Voter Fraud. Now He’s Testifying Before Congress

Photo: Lauren Gerson

On Tuesday, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler has called for the first hearings on House Resolution 1, the sweeping anti-corruption and electoral reform bill that is the first introduced in the 116th Congress. Possibly the most important election legislation introduced since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, HR1 would eliminate barriers to voter registration, expand and improves ballot access, implement new cybersecurity standards for voting systems, require independent redistricting commissions, implement new ethics standards, and set up a robust, innovative public campaign finance system.

The most important voter registration and ballot access components have already received widespread public support, and have been implemented by over a dozen states, through Democratic and Republican leadership. According to recent surveys, more than two-thirds of Americans support automatic voter registration, six in ten support same day registration (including three quarters of young Republicans), and supermajorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents want non-partisan redistricting and the elimination of gerrymandering.

There is solid scientific backing that demonstrates the efficacy of such reforms. Last year the Center for Science and Democracy produced a report, Building a Healthier Democracy, that reviews much of the scientific literature. In that report, we showed that, among a variety of electoral reforms, eliminating voter registration barriers would have the largest impact on increasing voter turnout.

And yet, once again, we see that a small but virulent group of pseudoscientific charlatans, intent on restricting participation in elections, are attempting to stop these reforms. Somehow, someone on the committee has placed the thoroughly discredited Hans von Spakovsky, whom you may know from such previous debacles as President Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission, among the list of those who will testify at the hearing.

It is remarkable that von Spakovsky is allowed to testify before this committee. He has been formally rebuked by a federal judge as a biased and misleading witness, and was caught on tape lying to reporter Jessica Huseman about being the author of a letter to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking to keep Democrats and moderate Republicans off of the voter fraud commission.

Oversight and Reform Committee members should therefore begin with three simple questions for Mr. Spakovsky, in order to allow them to move on to an adult discussion of the promise and challenges of these electoral reforms.

Question One: Just this week President Trump claimed that voter fraud is rampant in Texas, where he claimed over 50,000 non-citizens have voted, and “especially” in California. What evidence does Mr. Spakovsky believe there is of widespread voter fraud in Texas (which already has a strict voter identification law, by the way) or California?

Correct Answer: None. President Trump had parroted a Fox News segment about a statement from TX Attorney General Paxton that 58,000 non-citizens may have voted since 1996. This claim was immediately verified as false by several Texas newspapers, journalists familiar with Texas voting law, and political scientists, who have repeatedly shown that voter impersonation fraud is nearly non-existent.

Question Two: The last time that von Spakovsky testified before a federal court, how was his testimony regarding claims of voter fraud characterized?

Correct Answer: In a suit that resulted in Trump voter fraud commission chair (and former KS Secretary of State) Kris Kobach being held in contempt, von Spakovsky’s past claims about voter fraud were put under cross examination. The judge cited “myriad misleading statements” from Spakovsky, in addition to a “lack of academic rigor” associated with his analysis, and his repeated admissions that he was “unaware” that previous claims he had made were refuted with actual scientific analysis. The court concluded that the legal record is “replete” with “evidence of Mr. von Spakovsky’s bias.”

Question Three:  How much weight have the federal courts given to Mr. von Spakovsky’s previous testimony?

Correct Answer: “The Court gives little weight to Mr. von Spakovsky’s opinion” because it is premised on “several misleading and unsupported examples of non-citizen voter registrati

Electoral reform and voting rights are policies that deserve expert scrutiny and robust scientific analysis, but Hans von Spakovsky and his financial supporters offer only misinformation and deception. It is time to get serious about electoral reform, and there is simply no place for von Spakovsky in a serious conversation.

Photo: Lauren Gerson

The Game is Changing: How Two Years of Trump Has Energized the Science Community

Photo: Barbara Barrett

Two years into the Trump administration the damage done to science is significant, as we’ve highlighted in our just-released report, The State of Science in the Trump Era. But it would have been far worse without thousands of scientists and their allies calling out attacks on science and detailing the consequences of these attacks for public health and safety. The challenge now is to continue to build those public engagement muscles so that science has a constituency that is more powerful, relevant, and influential. 

There’s never been anything like this

This is the golden age of scientist engagement in America. I have worked at the intersection of science and policy for 15 years. Many science policy experts have many more decades of experience. None of us have ever seen anywhere close to this level of sustained interest in defending the role of science in both societal and individual decisions.

Scientists and their allies are fully engaged in efforts to fight attacks on science and articulate a better future.

Advocacy for science used to be contained to arguing for more funding. No more. At every scientific meeting, on every campus, at every happy hour, people are talking about how the science community can build resiliency to political attacks and articulate the future we want to see—in a way that empowers everyone who lives in this country. 

I’m constantly energized and inspired by the experts and science supporters who take the time to learn and deploy advocacy and communications skills. Scientists in Montana organized a science policy workshop and are now sharing what they learned. Experts in Wisconsin are building their storytelling prowess. Science advocates from all over the United States regularly participate in public hearings to explain the real-world impacts of policy proposals.

And then there are the federal workers who take seriously their oath to serve the United States—even when they’re not getting paid and are worried about their mortgages and grocery bills and school fees. The ones who worked through the longest shutdown in American history, through attacks on their integrity from the political hacks leading their agencies, through censorship and uncertainty.

These are the people that keep me and my colleagues at UCS sane. These are the people who give us hope.

I truly believe that we are taking advantage of this time of great threat to both science and democracy to build an active, powerful constituency not only to counter the most egregious abuses of science but also to advance a future vision that makes science an indispensable part of equitable, fair, and just environmental and public public health decisions. After two exhausting years, our energy and determination and grit has only increased.

Out of two abominable years, hope

Federal science agencies were given authority to clean our air and water, protect us from unsafe products, encourage a level playing field among innovators, and make the American Dream more likely for everyone. This investment was driven by a conviction that research that prioritized the public interest was essential to our health and welfare. Over decades, these agencies built up incredible workforces who were not only top subject-matter experts but also understood how policy is made. 

Thousands of scientists engaged in Science Rising, an immensely successful effort to inject science policy topics into the 2018 election.

Yet the president’s early advisors pledged the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” which includes decimating these very federal science agencies. After two years under President Trump, on many levels, we are indeed a weaker country than we were two years ago, less prepared to meet complex environmental and public health challenges. The scientific workforce within government has fewer resources, less autonomy, and worse morale. Agency officials have often abandoned science advice, politicized the process of distributing scientific grants, and made it significantly easier for industries to influence the rules that are supposed to keep them honest. 

But even with a hostile president, House, and Senate, a fully-engaged scientific community kept some of the worst attacks on science from being realized. At every step, scientists and their allies set expectations and spoke up loudly when those expectations were not met.

A letter to President Trump upon his election from thousands of experts laid out a roadmap for what a responsible presidency would look like. As these good government practices were violated again and again, scientists met with legislators, wrote op-eds, filed public comments, organized their peers, and even joined lawsuits to challenge illegal activity. And the Science Rising project mobilized thousands to inject science issues into the 2018 midterm elections. 

Here’s a sampling of these successes, as highlighted in our report on the Trump administration’s first two years

  • We stopped some of the most unqualified and conflicted nominees. The Senate was mostly a rubber stamp for the president’s judicial and executive branch nominees, with most of the swampiest swamp creatures sailing through. Yet science supporters were able to help make the case that several nominees were not acceptable. For example, Michael Dourson, nominated to fill an EPA chemical safety post, had a history of pushing counterfeit science on behalf of the chemical industry. Thousands of concerned citizens urged their senators to oppose the nomination, and after many senators said they would do so, Dourson withdrew from consideration.

  • We convinced the EPA to enforce Clean Air Act penalties on the dirtiest trucks. Under Administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA embraced flawed research on trucks with new bodies but older, polluting engines and then exempted them from Clean Air Act enforcement. Scientists joined advocacy groups and some companies to file thousands of public comments opposing the decision. Upon Pruitt’s departure, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler closed this enforcement loophole.

  • We helped a government analysis of toxic chemicals see the light of day. The White House tried to block the release of a report on the toxicity of PFAS chemicals, which have been linked to neurological damage, liver disease, kidney cancer, and ulcerative colitis. Thousands of UCS supporters asked their members of Congress to demand the report’s release, and now, many are closely watching the EPA’s progress in developing a plan to manage the chemical.

  • We forced the protection of an endangered species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service froze a science-based plan to protect an endangered bumblebee, which is critical to pollination. Several non-profits sued the FWS to implement the plan, citing the law, scientific justification, and public support for protections.

  • We stopped the administration from collecting less data on older LGBT Americans. Many social and public health scientists formally objected to a proposal to remove sexual orientation questions from a Department of Health and Human Services survey, arguing that the removal would make health care worse. The department decided not to move forward with the proposal.

  • We stalled a proposal to restrict how the EPA can use science in its decisions. One of EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s top priorities was to remove thousands of public health studies from consideration as the agency develops public protections. After overwhelming opposition from scientists and their allies, that proposal stalled and has, for the moment, been deprioritized. 

These are big victories, made more impressive by the fact that our president disdains the rule of law, lacks a basic comprehension of how agency decisions are made, and, as the recent shutdown demonstrates, has a fundamental misunderstanding of how negotiations work in a representative democracy. By the fact that for two years, a scared and complicit Congress did embarrassingly little to rein him in. By the fact that some federal agencies whose independence has been compromised by swarms of political appointees who came directly from the industries that their agencies are supposed to regulate. And still, we were able to stop some of the worst proposals from coming to fruition.

The game is changing

The Trump administration has failed to govern in so many critical ways. Yet now we are entering a new era, with a Congress that is no longer cowed into accepting the president’s reprehensible approach to governing. Hearings and oversight letters can bring accountability. A bully pulpit can call attention to actions that counter the best interests of the United States and its people. And legislation can chart a better path forward to prioritize health and safety for all of us.

Now is the time to double down. Now is the time to ensure that Congress steps forward to defend science and articulate a path forward. And in the coming months, we will need to articulate a vision for the future that presidential candidates in both major political parties can embrace.

If you’ve read this far, you’re clearly with us. So here’s your next step: if you’re a scientist, sign this letter to call on Congress to do all it can to hold the White House accountable. And join our Science Watchdog team, which helps organize the science community to oppose anti-science actions and push for science-based solutions to public health and environmental challenges. 

If you’re not a scientist, call on the EPA to set science-based standards for PFAS chemicals that are making people sick. Then sign up to be a Science Champion to help us fight attacks on science, public health, and the environment. 

And thanks for being a part of our movement.

Photo: Barbara Barrett

Two Years of Attacks on Science are Putting Public Health and Safety at Risk

Photo: Audrey Eyring/UCS

Today, UCS is releasing the report “The State of Science in the Trump Era: Damage Done, Lessons Learned, and a Path to Progress.” This report is truly a culmination of the state of science in the Trump era to date. In it, we have detailed the administration’s attacks on federal science and scientists during the past two years, highlighted successes that the scientific community and their supporters have had in pushing back against these attacks, and outlined a path forward for a new Congress to hold this administration accountable for these attacks.

Attacks on science are attacks on our health and safety

In the past two years, we have documented 80 attacks on science by the Trump administration. This large number makes it clear that these are not isolated incidents at this point, but a pattern that signifies that this administration is undermining science in the policy process.

In just two years, the Trump administration has done serious damage to science and science-based policies. They have rolled back science-based protections on air pollution, water pollution, chemical safety, and endangered species. They have excluded scientific staff and studies from the decision-making process. They have placed new restrictions on what science can be used in the creation of policy and put more political pressure on scientific researchers. They have appointed unqualified or conflicted individuals to lead key science agencies—or they have left these positions entirely vacant.

In our research, we also discovered that the Trump administration has conducted far fewer environmental reviews compared with the prior four administrations. During the administration’s first two years only 237 environmental impact statements were prepared. This record low means that there has been far less public input into federal infrastructure projects, and that this administration couldn’t care less about considering alternatives that may be more beneficial to our environment.

The consequences of these actions are real and dangerous. Lives depend on federal science and the enforcement of science-based laws. Through disbanding scientific advisory panels on the particulate matter and ozone pollutants in our air, more people will suffer from asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. In asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—against the advice of scientists—to reconsider its decision for the EPA to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos, the administration is exposing children and farmworkers to serious health risks, including brain damage. By amending rules to the Toxic Substances Control Act as suggested by the chemical industry, more people will be exposed to dangerous chemicals like asbestos that cause, among other diseases, cancer.

There is a path forward to reverse this dangerous course

There is a new Congress in town as of January 2019. And with great power comes great responsibility. For the past two years, Congress has neglected its duty to hold the administration accountable to its responsibility of serving the public and making sure that Trump’s political appointees are following the rule and enforcing the law. It’s urgent that Congress put forth proactive solutions as soon as possible to protect the role of science in public policy—to safeguard the public.

We have outlined a path forward for Congress to reverse these attacks on science in our new report. What are our recommendations? I’ll list a few here.

Congress must pass a Scientific Integrity Act to defend federal science from political interference, and craft other proactive legislation to advance the use of science to protect the public. This Scientific Integrity Act should include, among other things, provisions that declare scientists’ right to review and ensure accuracy of public materials that rely on their work or use their name; that prohibit political appointees and communications staff from editing scientific content of official documents; and that declare scientists’ right to publicly express personal views.

Additionally, Congress must address the Trump administration’s sidelining of independent science advice from science advisory committees by bolstering the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Congress should, among other recommended provisions, ensure that party affiliations, political opinions, and other inappropriate criteria are not part of the selection process for these committees; clarify that scientists who exercise their rights as private citizens or receive government funding for scientific work should not be excluded from these committees because of concerns of bias; and codify the process used for committee formation.

These are only a couple of the many recommendations we outline to get federal science back on track. There is a lot of work to be done. Did I mention that in two years the Trump administration has attacked federal science and scientists 80 times?

Scientists are pushing back

While Congress has been largely silent on the Trump administration’s attacks on science during the past two years, scientists and their supporters have not. Advocates of federal science have been more engaged and vocal about attacks on science than ever before. They have called out the dangers that these attacks present to the public, demanded that the Trump administration stop these attacks, and urged Congress to take up proactive policy solutions that repair the damage done.

The science community and their supporters have participated in public events, comments, the courts and other avenues to limit the damage and contain some abuses of science in the Trump era. This group has seen great success in pushing back against these attacks on science. Concerted efforts by this group have helped block dangerous nominees to scientific leadership positions—such as Michael Dourson and Kathleen Hartnett White. The release of a suppressed report on contamination of a dangerous group of chemicals known as PFAS was made possible by pressure on Congress from advocates of federal science. And just after Scott Pruitt left his charge at the Environmental Protection Agency, this group of advocates blocked one of Pruitt’s efforts to create a loophole for high-polluting trucks.

When scientists get involved in the democratic process as constituents, they are an unstoppable force.

Keep the fight going

The Trump administration isn’t backing down. It seems that every week, we are helping push back against this administration’s anti-science agenda. But we know our efforts are worth this battle—the health and lives of people across this country depend on federal science. There is path forward with a new Congress to stop this administration’s sidelining of science, but continued and sustained engagement is required. I hope you’ll continue to march on with me—there’s a lot that we all can do.

It’s up to us to let our elected officials know that we care about what’s at stake when it comes to science-based policymaking, so that they step up their efforts to shine a light on bad actors and conduct investigations to hold agencies accountable. The Union of Concerned Scientists has many resources on how to effectively engage with their lawmakers. These resources include guidance on how you can schedule an in-person meeting with your lawmaker, craft a pitch for your lawmaker on a specific issue, and what to say on a call with your lawmaker’s office. To access resources on how to effectively engage with their lawmakers and more, please visit www.ucsusa.org/watchdog.

With a new Congress starting in 2019, we have a renewed opportunity to stand up for science. Join the scientific community in calling on Congress to investigate federal agency actions that undermine critical science-based safeguards. Sign the letter today!

Newly Formed PFAS Task Force Calls for Action to Clean Up Toxic Chemicals

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord

Earlier this week, members of Congress announced the creation of a bipartisan task force intended to shine a light on the dangers of nationwide PFAS contamination. The group plans to hold briefings to further educate members of Congress and to write and push for strong legislation and funding through the appropriations process.

This exciting news comes as the public continues to wait for answers from the Trump administration, which has largely been all talk and no action on this issue. The EPA’s anticipated PFAS management plan has been delayed and documents uncovered by Politico revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) had recently been eyeing Michael Dourson to lead a study on the health risks of PFAS. You might remember Dourson as the toxicologist who withdrew his name from consideration as EPA chemicals head last year after his industry conflicts and record of weakened standards were exposed. DoD’s consideration of Dourson for this work is a slap in the face to the communities calling for science-based thresholds that are health-protective.

The establishment of this task force is a great opportunity for Congress to push for urgent, strong action and answer the calls of so many Americans for whom drinking their own water presents a public health risk. It is composed of representatives from some of the hardest hit states, including Michigan (Bergman, Dingell, Huizenga, Kildee, Lawrence, Levin, Slotkin, Stevens, Tlaib, Upton, Walberg), Pennsylvania (Boyle, Dean, Fitzpatrick), New Mexico (Lujan), and New York (Delgado). PFAS contamination is extremely pervasive and is a national problem, impacting military bases and sites near production facilities across the country, as we detailed in a recent fact sheet. The group would benefit from even more robust and diverse membership, which is why you should encourage your members of Congress to join this important collaboration that could prove to be critical in prompting science-based EPA and DOD action.

We at UCS look forward to working with members of this task force over the coming months to demand that PFAS contamination is swiftly cleaned up, enforceable standards are set, and more monitoring and research is done to better understand the scope of this toxic mess.

Organizing a Science Policy Workshop: What we learned in Bozeman, Montana

Photo: Tim Evanson/Flickr

The Bozeman 500 Women Scientists pod held a science policy workshop in February 2018 for 30 female scientists from all career stages, undergraduate to professor and government-based scientists. Sound intimidating? Here’s how we got there.

In the summer of 2017, Emma Kate Loveday, Racheal Upton, Kelsey Wallisch Simon, and Chloe VanderMolen became the acting leadership for the local 500 Women Scientists pod. The 500 Women Scientists pod in Bozeman, Montana, meets regularly to act as a local support network, make strategic plans, and take action within the community. 500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization started by women scientists, with the goal of promoting equality for female scientists and decreasing the anti-science agenda in global, national, and local politics. The group was founded following the November 2016 election, when the national leadership published an open letter re-affirming their commitment to speak up for science and women, minorities, immigrants, people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA individuals.

Making the initial connection and building relationships with policymakers

When the four of us pod leaders stepped up to run the Bozeman pod, we were very interested in working with local policy makers to make sure that science had its place at the table when legislation was being crafted. We quickly discovered the process of policy making is not straightforward, leading us to want to develop a further connection with local politicians to gain greater insight into the process. How could we expect scientists here in Bozeman to work actively to support policy-makers within such a confusing framework? So we applied for and received funding from UCS to hold an all-day science policy workshop for female scientists in all career stages. And boy, did we have an amazing workshop!

Planning a workshop

One of our main objectives for the day was to bring policy makers in from both sides of the aisle to discuss openly how they utilize science in their policy making decisions.
But before we could have our workshop, we had to do the groundwork. Here are some highlights we recommend for planning a workshop:

Timing: Our planning started with laying out the framework of what we imagined a successful day looked like. We started the workshop at 10am so everyone did not feel to rushed for a Saturday morning workshop. We worked out breaks and lunchtime and planned to end our formal workshop at 5pm but continue it with a happy hour at one of our local breweries!

Speakers: The four of us met up every Sunday over coffee or beers to prepare for the workshop. We utilized our own networks in Bozeman to touch base with local politicians and nonprofit groups that had legislative experience. One of the amazing aspects of Montana is the ability to reach out and interact with our state policy makers. We were able to locate speakers with relative ease that were more than happy to participate in the workshop.

Logistics: We set up an online google form for registration and located a space associated with Montana State University for holding our event. In addition to setting up the space, food and speakers, we wanted to provide on-site childcare. Both myself (Emma) and Chloe have young children and it can be difficult to do activities such as this on the weekend. So we booked a teacher from my daughter’s daycare for the Saturday and offered fully paid childcare for this event; expanding our attendance to a greater range female scientists! It was an important aspect that we felt should be offered at all scientific conferences and workshops. We contacted the more than 100 women from our local Bozeman pod members to advertise registration and the 30 slots for the workshop quickly filled up.

Teaching women scientists how to get involved in the legislative process

We started our workshop with a discussion featuring Zach Brown (Democrat from Bozeman) and Walt Sales (Republican from Manhattan, a small town about 10 miles west of Bozeman). Brown helped us reach out to Sales, a multi generation rancher, and we could not have had a better duo to discuss different perspectives on important issues such as climate change, water policy and how they incorporated science in general. Following, Kathleen Williams gave us the nuts and bolts of policymaking: an overview of how a bill becomes a law in the Montana government, how she as a state legislator tries to utilize scientific input, and where and how scientists could reach out to the state government to provide insight into proposed legislature. Joanna Nadeau, from UCS, gave an overview of how local and state policies connect into the federal system. After lunch we heard from Beth Kaeding at the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC), a non-profit that works with ranchers across the northern plains, who provided a scientist’s perspective on policymaking. As a member of NPRC, Kaeding had attended every legislative session for the past decade and has provided expert testimony during the committee and rule making process. She is an expert in the state government system and was highly knowledgeable how to work within it. One of the key takeaways from Kaeding was that there are multiple opportunities to provide expertise in the legislative process. Initially we believed that we would need to get in from the ground up when bills are being drafted, but we can also provide expert testimony at committee hearings, where policy makers consider whether or not to advance a bill to the house floor. There is also a great opportunity to provide information and expertise during rule making meetings, which occur after a bill has passed.

Following Beth, David Quammen, a world-renowned science writer and author, provided insight into how to communicate our science with both the public and policy-makers. This was further explored with expert advice from Dr. Shannon Willoughby and Kent Davis, both professors at Montana State University and authors, in which they explored the way to “storytell” scientific expertise to the general public. Each of our invited speakers was excited to spend a day with a group of women scientists and learn from us as much as we wanted to learn from them! All of our speakers spent the majority of the workshop with us, giving attendees extra opportunities to meet and have more in depth conversations with them. The commitment from each of our speakers was unexpected and reflects our community’s appreciation of science. We finished up the workshop with a happy hour. All the ladies that were able to attend the happy hour had a better chance to get to know each other and discuss the day’s events.

What success looks like

We were so excited to have female scientists from all career stages, from undergraduate to professor and government scientists, attend the event. By having a broad range of individuals in the audience we were able to address how you are able to participate in the policy-making process at every career stage. All of our participants said that they had a better understanding of the political process in Montana following the workshop. Our participants also appreciated the opportunity to see and meet people in government and realize how approachable and kind they were to the attendees and to each other. With the partisanship that plays out daily, this aspect struck a chord with the majority of our attendees, as reflected in our follow up surveys. Overall, our participants provided very positive feedback and we are getting requests and inquiries to see if we are going to hold a follow up workshop in 2019. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to hold this unique event in Bozeman, MT and it has instilled a desire to continue to work towards science-based policies in our local 500WS pod that continues today.

Since the workshop the pod worked on a get out the vote campaign that was headed up by a few participants from our workshop and included a discussion with local candidates in October. We continue to nurture and maintain relationships with the speakers from the workshop and hope to work with them more as the Montana legislative sessions returns in 2019. While our path ahead to continue our work may feel daunting at times we are invigorated by the local community’s support for our cause and the overall need to continue this important fight.

 

Dr. Emma Kate Loveday is a postdoc working on single cell virology at Montana State University in the laboratory of Dr. Connie Chang. Dr. Loveday earned her B.S. in biochemistry from Suffolk University on Boston and her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia. Her time in Canada provided a unique perspective on US politics. Dr. Loveday is also the leader of the Bozeman 500 W.S. Pod. Follow her on Twitter at @DoctorLoveday, or the Bozeman pod @Bozeman500women.

Dr. Racheal Upton is a postdoctoral researcher with expertise in microbial ecology, particularly above and belowground interactions in prairies and cropping systems. Dr. Upton earned her B.S. in molecular biology from Millersville University, PA and her Ph.D. in microbiology from Iowa State University, Ames, IA. She has a strong passion for mentoring the future generation of female scientists and engaging with her local community. Dr. Upton is one of the co-leaders of the Bozeman 500WS pod and serves as the representative for the local pod to the larger 500WS organization. Follow her on Twitter @erbforscience

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.

Tim Evanson

Trump Swamp Threatens Waters of the US

Photo: michaelgeorgeau/iStock

Last month, the Trump EPA finally issued its intended replacement to the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and R.D. James, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, wrote in the Kansas City Star that less stringent water rules will give “hardworking Americans the freedom and certainty they need to do what they do best: develop, build and invest in projects that improve the environment and the lives of their fellow citizens.”

What’s really going on is that President Trump wants to give the nation’s chronic polluters freedom from consequence for harming ecosystems and the nation’s drinking water.

While Trump has spent nearly two years railing against clean water rules, he has feigned neither a serious scientific nor economic rationale for rolling them back. Much like his assault on President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and mercury air toxics standards, the intended beneficiaries of the weaker rules he proposes are indiscriminate developers and operators of mines, power plants, and agribusinesses who have all lobbied for a blind eye to the seepage and runoff of ash, heavy metals, oil, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste.

Using hysteria to shut down science

The Obama administration issued the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) in 2015. In so doing, the administration rightly noted that nearly half of America’s river and stream miles and a third of wetlands were in “poor biological condition” and that one out of three  Americans drink from water sources without clear federal protection. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Obama administration’s EPA extended protection beyond large “navigable” waters to less visible bodies that are still vital to healthy ecosystems, such as tributaries, wetlands, prairie potholes, vernal pools, and streams that have natural dry periods or flow only after rainfall.

In actuality, intermittent and ephemeral streams account for 59 percent of all streams in the US outside of Alaska and 81 percent of streams in the arid Southwest. After an EPA review of more than 1,200 published and peer-reviewed scientific reports, the Obama administration decided that America’s seemingly small or isolated waters have tremendous connectivity to navigable rivers used for commerce. Concurring were seven societies of scientists for wetlands, fisheries, freshwater science, and other aspects of ecology. They wrote that wetlands are “Like diamonds, they can be small, but extremely valuable.”

Opponents tried to block Obama’s polishing of these diamonds with wild claims about the harm to the economy. When WOTUS was proposed, then-House Speaker John Boehner condemned it as a “tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs.” The American Farm Bureau called it a “nightmare” that would crush the value of some farmland “by as much as 40 percent.” Lawsuits, including those filed by the US Chamber of Commerce, have pushed the 2015 rule into purgatory; it is currently in force in 22 states and blocked in the remaining 28. The map of states where the rule is or is not in force looks significantly like the electoral map that propelled Trump into office.

A month and a half after taking office, Trump signed a February 2017 executive order to review the rules, claiming, “The EPA’s regulators are putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.” In June 2018, Scott Pruitt, then Trump’s administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, sarcastically belittled bodies of water he wanted to remove from federal protection, such as prairie potholes, which are major migratory refuges and breeding grounds for waterfowl. Pruitt called them “prairie puddles,” and that removing them from protection in states like North Dakota would “save the economy a billion dollars.” Pruitt and farm lobbyists falsely raised the specter of the federal government swooping in to regulate every ditch dug by a farmer and every rainfall puddle, even though the Obama rule explicitly excluded ordinary puddles and ditches.

A highly dubious cost-benefit analysis

In its warped notion of freedom for polluters, one of the first things Trump’s EPA did to grease the skids for the replacement rule was produce a highly dubious cost-benefit analysis that is the polar opposite of one produced by the Obama EPA.

Under Obama, the EPA projected that the annual costs of complying with enhanced protection might range from $158 million to $465 million. But, it found, the benefits from wetland mitigation, stormwater implementation, and other improvements were significantly more, ranging from $349 million to $572 million. Since then, a 2017 study by researchers at New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity found that, given the value of wetlands and the public’s willingness to pay for them, a more accurate estimate of annual benefits may be between $612 million and $1 billion.

But Trump’s EPA threw out the benefits of protected wetlands in its so-called analysis. That’s because, according to internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the environment and energy news site E&E, the Trump administration would exclude half of the nation’s wetland acreage that has been mapped by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Its cover story for ditching wetland benefits was that studies used by the Obama administration were too old (of course neither Pruitt nor Wheeler bothered to hustle up one of their own). It also said it was too confusing to consider wetlands where state and federal jurisdiction overlap (conveniently ignoring how many conservative state legislatures abandoned such protections). The Trump EPA concluded that its rule would produce only between $34 million to $73 million in annual benefits while avoiding between $162 million and $476 million in compliance costs.

The selective bean counting of the Trump EPA does not stack up against a world of evidence attesting to the value of clean water. To date, neither the administration nor lobbyists have offered evidence of any job loss for the 22 states that have been under the rule. As for cropland values, they soared 55 percent during Obama’s two terms, from $2,640 an acre to $4,090, while rising just one percent in Trump’s first two years amid his international trade wars that have led to falling incomes for farmers in 2019.

Economic benefits of clean water

The attack on clean water risks putting many people out of work. A 2015 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina and Yale University found that government and privately funded ecological mitigation programs add up to a $9.5 billion in annual economic output, providing direct jobs to 126,000 Americans with a median salary of nearly $50,000. The biggest shares of jobs are in planning, design, engineering, earth moving, and planting and site construction.

The study authors said their findings run counter to the narrative of the US Chamber of Commerce (and of course now the Trump administration) that environmental regulation has a “corrosive” effect on the economy. Moreover, the study bolstered calculations by University of Massachusetts researchers that reforestation and land and watershed restoration work provide 39 jobs per $1 million invested, compared to five jobs for oil and gas and six for Trump’s economic centerpiece of coal.

Clean water means much higher quality recreation. Several fishing and hunting groups have joined forces with conservation groups to protest the Trump rollback, saying that clean water supports 828,000 jobs in the sports fishing industry. The Trump administration itself, via a US Fish and Wildlife report, boasts that one in three Americans engage annually in hunting, fishing, or some form of wildlife-related recreation, pumping $157 billion into the economy.

With wildlife-related recreation increasing 16 percent since 2011, the report said, with obvious irony, “These findings represent good news for everyone who cares about the health of our wildlife, natural landscapes, and people.”

In even more expansive data, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis says the national outdoor recreation economy was $412 billion in 2016, and growing faster than the general economy with 4.55 million jobs. The most significant core activity by revenue was boating and fishing ($37 billion), the most obvious recreational activity that cannot exist without clean water.

Value of wetlands: priceless

Such analyses don’t come near exhausting the actual value of smaller bodies of water and wetlands. Anyone who lives in the US Northeast should understand that. Scientists from the University of California Santa Cruz and the Nature Conservancy estimate that wetlands helped the 12 states hit by Hurricane Sandy avoid another $625 million in damage. Without wetlands, the EPA says Boston-area communities along the Charles River would suffer $17 million in annual flood damage.

Globally, wetlands are so productive to, and protective of, such a wide range of wildlife ecosystems, fisheries, and recreational industries that their annual worth in services is estimated to be $26 trillion a year. Yet a third of wetlands have been lost since 1970, according to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The United States has lost more than half of the wetlands that existed in colonial times in what would be the contiguous 48 states, according to federal reports and today, according to the EPA, only 5.5 percent of land area is considered a wetland.

Part of the problem for the historic loss, according to a joint report by the Interior Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is: “Since the time of Colonial America, wetlands have been regarded as a hindrance to productive land use. Swamplands, bogs, sloughs and other wetland areas were considered wastelands to be drained, filled or manipulated to ‘produce’ other than natural services or commodities.”

That is a mentality the Trump administration clearly wants to bring back. That would be a tragedy, from flood protection to fish for anglers, from birds in binoculars to drinking water supplies and from farm values to jobs in the restoration economy. In rolling out the rollback, Wheeler wrote that Trump’s Waters of the United States rule would “end years of uncertainty over whether federal jurisdiction begins and ends.” Actually, it would begin years of certain pollution.

Fortunately, the future of the rollback, like many Trump attacks on environmental regulation, is uncertain. In the short term, those who want to fight for clean water have additional time to raise their voice. The government shutdown has thus far prevented the publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register and the start of a required 60-day public comment period. A public meeting in Kansas City, initially scheduled for January 23 has now been postponed.

Should the rule eventually become final, it is certain to face vigorous legal challenges from environmental groups, more progressive states and industries that would fail with fouled water. Ultimately, the rule may come down to the 2020 presidential election and whether Trump and his anti-science agenda stays or goes.

Given how many jobs clean water provides, given how much protection wetlands give coastal and river communities, and given how many Americans are shockingly at risk of drinking water from sources that may not be protected, Waters of the United States is a critical issue we all need to wade in.

Photo: michaelgeorgeau/iStock

Mercury Is Toxic. Andrew Wheeler’s Proposed Rollback Is Even Worse.

Photo: PDTillman/Wikimedia Commons

Late last month and just in time to welcome in a new year of rolling back public health protections, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intention to propose a new formula for calculating the human health benefits that come from reducing air pollution from power plants.

In a clever, calculated, and cynical move, the agency took aim at its own Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS)—adopted during the Obama administration—and decided to propose a revision to the agency’s 2016 supplemental finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) from power plants, even after considering costs. The new proposal’s bottom line: Regulating hazardous air pollution from power plants under the Clean Air Act is no longer “appropriate and necessary.” It’s just too costly. (You can learn more about this travesty in my previous post.)

In a crafty and dangerous, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed a whole new way to look at the costs and benefits of MATS. His rationale: it’s just not right to count the cumulative health benefits of regulating mercury and hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from power plants. In other words, forget about the co-benefits that come from the reduced emissions of particulate matter that go hand-in-glove with reducing emissions of mercury and HAPS. (You can read more about the public health impacts of particulate matter here.)

Discounting co-benefits is PEAK nonsense

In finalizing the MATS rule back in 2012, the EPA noted its significant public health benefits—benefits that would accrue to neighborhoods around power plants as well as to communities well-beyond the plant. They estimated the annual benefits to range from $37 billion to $90 billion, with compliance costs to industry estimated at $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually. The pollution controls required by the standard would be a trifecta for public health—mercury, fine particles, and sulfur dioxide emissions would all be reduced.

The EPA estimated that these cumulative benefits would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, more than 100,000 asthma and heart attacks, 5,700 emergency room visits, and over 3 million days of restricted activity—EACH YEAR. Pretty good return on investment, wouldn’t you say?

So how ridiculous is it to decide these co-benefits don’t count. As a scientist, it’s basically like saying you are closing your eyes to a major impact of the action. As a policymaker, it essentially says, “Efficiency doesn’t matter. I know we have this huge potential benefit, but let’s only deal with one issue at a time rather than try to feed two birds with one scone.”

But OK—this EPA has decided to throw common sense and efficiency out the window. Their proposal basically says “Let’s just focus only on the direct benefits of controlling the mercury and HAPS emissions alone; if we did that, the benefits are only $4 million to $6 million.” So hardly worth it, right?  As a public health professional, this struck me as particularly pernicious.

Mercury – what we know

First of all, the health impacts of mercury exposure are well known, extensively documented, and pretty nasty. It’s a potent neurotoxin that affects the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune function—even at relatively low levels of exposure. Fetuses and young children are especially vulnerable to exposure, with devastating and life-long impacts on cognitive function, memory, language, attention, and visual and motor skills. Communities that rely on or consume large amounts of fish are also at higher health risk; these might include indigenous peoples, immigrant groups, and subsistence and recreational anglers.

Then there is the recent science, which suggests that the monetized benefits of controlling mercury emissions from power plants were vastly understated by the EPA in its 2011 regulatory impact analysis of MATS. A 2016 paper in Environmental Science and Technology details several problems with it, noting that the assessment considered only a small subset of the public health and environmental risks associated with mercury emissions—yes, mercury, directly and specifically.

And then we might consider that MATS has been highly effective in reducing atmospheric concentrations of mercury in the US.

There’s also the study of neurotoxicity prevention due to methyl mercury control efforts in Europe, which found that “total annual benefits of exposure prevention within the EU were estimated at more than 600,000 IQ points per year, corresponding to a total economic benefit between €8,000 million and €9,000 million per year.”

And finally, there’s the fact that most coal plants have already come into compliance with MATS by installing the necessary pollution control technology.

Are mercury and HAPS  too costly to control?

I guess the answer depends on whose costs and benefits get the most weight. If you think about the women and children in your life and about the serious health impacts of mercury emissions, you might just favor those regulatory safeguards even if reducing them is costly to the polluters. You might think that regulating them is both “necessary and appropriate.” And if so, you should be worried—I mean really worried—about what the EPA’s latest rollback ruse means. Not just for mercury and hazardous air pollutants from power plants, but how the agency could apply this new cost-benefit calculus to other pollutants that endanger our health in the future.

Now don’t be fooled. Acting Administrator Wheeler is quick to claim that the MATS rule remains in place (at least for now), and that it is simply changing its underlying cost calculus. I call it sabotage by another name. Others have characterized it as “the EPA’s Trojan Horse objective.”

So, I repeat what I said last week. This is NOT OK.  It’s critical that we let the EPA know what we think of its wonky little revision. It’s a crafty, nasty, and dangerous proposal that could roll back current safeguards and undermine future public health and environmental protections.

Get ready to submit your comments on this rule to EPA and alert your colleagues to do the same. We will alert you when the public comment period opens for this rule and to any public hearing on the proposal.

I also hope that Acting Administrator Wheeler is questioned about this cynical move at his likely confirmation hearing in mid- to late January. It would be great to hear senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee ask him why the agency shouldn’t embrace the efficiencies of evaluating ALL the benefits of a rule—and make public health the overarching priority— rather than narrowing the scope of its benefits.

Photo: USDA/Flickr

The Government Shutdown Hurts Public Health and the Environment. Do You Have a Story to Tell?

Photo: Judy Gallagher/Flickr

We’ve all heard tales of museum closings and deteriorating national parks. But the government shutdown causes far more damage to public health and the environment and the science that can improve our lives. This devastating aspect of the shutdown is getting much less attention than it deserves.  We need to elevate these stories, and we need help from those who work most closely with the federal government to do so.

What happens during a shutdown

USDA and other government offices provide critical technical services to farmers, businesses, and communities throughout the country, services that are disrupted during a government shutdown. We need your help to tell those stories.

The enforcement of environmental protections grinds to a halt. Chemical facilities are not inspected. Agricultural technical assistance projects are shut down. The protection of species stops. Research is disrupted, which can lead to gaps in data or entire lost field seasons (and huge wastes of taxpayer dollars).

There is also enormous capacity that goes into preparing for and recovering from a government shutdown, capacity that could be better used to deliver government services. All because of the president’s inability to govern and negligent obsession with building a useless border wall.

How you can help

We are looking for specifics that communicate the true cost of this (and every subsequent) shutdown. We’d like to know how your work has been disrupted, both during the shutdown and in preparation for it. Federal employees, contractors, and grant recipients—as well as users of government services—can reach out through our Science Protection Project. By going through that project, you can be as anonymous as you like.

You can also contact us directly using the methods described here, or share your thoughts in the comments section below. We are focused on how the shutdown compromises the mission of federal agencies such as EPA, NOAA, Interior, FWS, USDA, NASA, and more, and seek stories from employees, contractors, and agency grant-funded scientists.

Be as specific as you can. What projects are suffering? Where are they located? What are the lost benefits? What are the consequences for research and communities? And what impact do repeated shutdowns have on productivity and morale?

The UCS Science Protection Project exists to help government and government-funded scientists expose actions that compromise the ability of the government to use science to serve the public interest. You can reach out at any time to access these resources.

And to all of the federally-funded experts out there who are struggling because of the government shutdown, UCS thanks you for your public service and hopes you can hang in there until the situation is resolved.

Photo: Judy Gallagher/Flickr

The EPA, Mercury, and Air Toxics, Oh My!

Photo: John Westrock/CC BY-NC (Flickr)

The government may be in the midst of a nonsensical shutdown, but that didn’t stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week from proposing a new formula of calculating the human health benefits of reducing mercury emissions from power plants (or in their words proposing a “revised Supplemental Cost Finding”).

New and revised for sure, but definitely not in a good way.

In keeping with the Trump Administration’s assault on science and on environmental and public health safeguards (see here and here), the EPA has decided that its own rule adopted during the Obama administration is just too costly and can no longer be justified as “appropriate and necessary.” Too costly for whom, you might ask. Bet you know the answer to that question.

Whose math is funny?

In 2012, the EPA estimated that its Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule would prevent 11,000 premature deaths and over 100,000 asthma and heart attacks each year, as a result of the co-benefits of the reduction in particulate matter pollution that occurs when plants reduce their mercury emissions. The agency estimated the health benefits of reductions in all air pollutants associated with MATS would range from $37 billion to $90 billion, with compliance costs to industry estimated at $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually.

Bah, humbug says EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler. The health benefits of cutting mercury emissions are only $4 million to $6 million max; it’s just not right to count those other co-benefits. Apparently, even the benefits of protecting pregnant women and the brains of their developing fetuses and young children from mercury exposure (a toxin can lower IQ, cause motor function problems, and other nervous system impairments) are too small to worry about, as they are far outweighed by what it could cost power plants to install the required pollution controls.

Never mind that scientists have concluded that the EPA’s 2011 regulatory impact assessment greatly underestimated the monetized benefits of reducing mercury emissions from power plants. And never mind that most coal plants have already come into compliance with MATS by installing the necessary pollution control technology. Oh, and almost forgot to mention that electric companies have reduced mercury emissions by 90% since the MATS rule took effect in 2012 (see quote by Brian Reil, a spokesman for the utility trade group Edison Electric Institute in this article.)

So, what is an agency bent on rolling back regulations to do? Well, why not narrow the scope of what can count as benefits and do a new cost-benefit analysis. Done! And presto, the EPA now asserts it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollution emitted from power plants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA is also asserting that there are no new technologies or methods of operation for controlling any residual risks of mercury and other hazardous air toxics that would justify the costs of further reductions. [So much for the agency’s confidence in innovation.]

An end-of-year gift (to industry) that will keep on giving

I suppose one can give a nod to the EPA’s impeccable timing in announcing this roll-back—at the end of a week between the holidays and while the government was shut down. Or perhaps the agency thought the public wouldn’t grasp the seriousness of its crafty ploy that leaves the actual rule intact (for now) while sideswiping its analytical underpinning.

But we and the broader public health and environmental communities are not fooled (some early reflections here and here and a more detailed analysis here). This maneuver to change the calculus of benefits sets a dangerous and far-reaching precedent—one that will make it ever more challenging to set protective regulations in the future. And one that clearly sets the stage for rescinding MATS itself, which BTW was included in Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray’s wish list of environmental rollbacks submitted to the Trump administration in early 2017. [Murray was an important client of Acting Administrator Wheeler in his former life as a coal industry lobbyist. See here and here.]

Tell the EPA THIS IS NOT OK

We can expect to see a notice published in the Federal Register (FR) shortly, which will open a 60-day public comment period. [See the submitted notice here, which includes mention of at least one public hearing on the proposal—location, date, and time to be published in a second FR document.]

It’s critical that we let the EPA know what we think of its wonky little revision. It’s not little; it’s a crafty, nasty, and dangerous proposal that could rollback current safeguards and undermine future public health and environmental protections. Get ready to comment and alert your colleagues to do the same. We will watch for the FR notice and let you know when it appears.

Why Was Climate Change Content Removed from the Department of Transportation Website?

Photo: US Department of Transportation

CNN had a scoop this past weekend: the U.S. Department of Transportation recently removed several climate change pages from its website. The changes are indicative of a greater trend within the federal government when it comes to climate information: when in doubt, take it out.

The DOT is responsible for fuel efficiency standards and infrastructure development, two issues with major climate change components. The pages described greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and detailed the impacts of climate change on road and bridge infrastructure. While much of the information was more than a decade old, it wasn’t replaced by anything newer.

A DOT spokesperson describes the changes as routine maintenance. Science and good government advocates are concerned about a greater trend of censoring and sidelining climate science and scientists. It turns out that all of us could be right.

It can be difficult these days to figure out what is routine and what is more nefarious. Sometimes, professional staff are inappropriately directed by political appointees to remove content. Sometimes they self-censor to protect existing work or avoid hassles down the road. And sometimes they are just doing their jobs and ensuring that outdated content is removed and archived, yet the political context makes it look as if there’s something more going on.

There are several challenges that this controversy identifies.

Suppressing and attacking climate science

First, as is news to virtually nobody, there’s a problem with this administration and climate change science. Several federal agencies—the EPA, Department of Interior, Department of Energy, the State Department, and USAID, just to name a few—have done their best to shut down communication of climate science and climate impacts when they should be doing the very opposite. Climate change has been omitted from research plans and report after report after report.

We’ve witnessed an increase in political control over government scientists and scientific information for two decades, control that has only accelerated under this administration. USGS and scientists now need to ask permission to speak to reporters (in violation of existing policy). At EPA and Interior, a political appointee now holds the veto pen in what was an apolitical grantmaking process. In a survey of government scientists conducted by UCS, hundreds reported being asked to refrain from communicating publicly about climate change.

When a National Park superintendent is flown to Washington to be reprimanded for climate change tweets, and climate change content is removed from planning reports across government, it’s perfectly appropriate for changes to this kind of content to come under additional scrutiny. We wouldn’t even be talking about this if all federal agencies actively encouraged scientists to communicate about their work.

Excluding science from policy proposals

Second, a responsible government would incorporate science into the policy it puts forward. Instead, we see DOT officials twisting like Gumby to sidestep and misrepresent science in an attempt to justify rolling back fuel efficiency standards. We see Department of Interior officials attempting to prevent consideration of climate change in developing plans to protect endangered species. We see climate change analysis omitted from plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

And it’s easier to escape accountability for decisions that lack a scientific basis when the science isn’t made easily available in the first place.

Confusion about how government information is saved

Third, the government needs to do better in developing and communicating standards for saving and archiving digital information. Website changes could be made less disruptive with sufficiently robust systems in place for continued access to older content. As we are learning from the row over the Department of Interior Records Retention proposal, the current methods the government uses are opaque and confusing to many, and may lead to poorer choices about what is retained and made accessible. Fortunately, there are great minds within and outside of government committed to tackling this problem.

The good news: people are paying attention. That’s no accident. Over the past two years, scientists, librarians, and archivists have highlighted the importance and vulnerability of federal government data and data interpretation tools and started telling stories about the connection between data and people’s lives. (They even have a new podcast!). Organizations such as the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, aided by tools such as the Wayback Machine, monitor federal websites and report on changes. Members of Congress conduct oversight into missing web content and draft legislation to improve agency accountability. Like anything else, government scientific information needs someone to advocate for it, and a diverse community is coming together to make that happen.

There’s a critical role for the federal government in informing state and local officials about what’s happening now and what’s coming next. A responsible government would be bending over backwards to put climate change information front and center. But until we have political leadership that respects the role of science in policymaking, we’re going to continue to see these kinds of stories.

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