What happened: From 2017 to 2021, the Trump administration made approximately 1,400 changes to agency websites that removed science-based information on environmental issues, such as water pollution, climate change, and endangered species.
Why it matters: Federal science is paid for by the American taxpayer and therefore federal agencies have a duty to report science-based information to the public in a fair, robust, and accessible manner. Federal agency websites are the primary means by which agencies communicate with the public and therefore changes to the language, content, or access to federal websites can directly affect public knowledge of and participation in governmental decisionmaking. The Trump administration deprived the public of the ability to be fully informed of the science behind important environmental rulemaking procedures, and therefore the public was therefore far less informed of how their health safety was affected by the administration’s environmental actions.
According to a report by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), the Trump administration changed and often removed science-based information on environmental issues approximately 1,400 times from the websites of several federal agencies. Over twenty percent of the website changes related to regulations and, of those changes related to regulations, half of them constituted the removal of information from the agency websites, such as fact sheets and guidance documents. Eighty percent of the information removed occurred just prior to or during active regulatory proceedings.
In particular, EDGI documented substantial changes to four environmental regulations: the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, the Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. For instance, the Clean Water Rule was a Trump administration rule enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to narrow the definition of what bodies of water could be regulated under the Clean Water Act. According to EDGI, the EPA failed to provide public information on its website regarding the underlying science on the current definition, the proposed change, or the potential impacts of rescinding existing protections on bodies of water.
The Trump administration exhibited a pattern of censoring important environmental information from agency websites in approximately 1,400 cases, particularly during rulemaking procedures when the public has a chance to weigh in and submit public comments. The public has a right to learn about the science-based information at federal agencies, especially the underlying science behind governmental decisionmaking that may affect their health and safety. The Trump administration had a duty to the public to communicate federal science, and it failed to do, leaving the public less knowledgeable and less able to act on this information to protect themselves and their loved ones.