The Weekend Wonk: Trump War on Science Sparks Backlash
January 28, 2017
The events of the past week have been worrying to advocates of government action on climate change, with the removal of climate priorities from the White House website, the order to freeze all Environmental Protection Agency contracts and the inauguration of a president who said he is “not a big believer” in the fact that humans have played a role in changing Earth’s climate.
But these events have also been very good for website traffic.
According to data from analytics.usa.gov, which tracks Web traffic on all .gov websites, several pages related to climate change have been extremely popular in the week since President Trump’s inauguration.
As of Friday morning, a National Park Service report about the agency’s “Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy” was the most downloaded document from a government website. Thousands more people wanted to download that document than those who downloaded the form to apply for passport renewal or any of the Internal Revenue Service documents required to file tax returns.
Over at EPA.gov, nine of the top-10 downloads are related to climate change. On Thursday alone, 3,036 people downloaded the agency’s 2016 report on climate change indicators, which lists evidence for global warming and provides ways to track its effects on the planet.
An EPA contractor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the worker was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the page EPA.gov/climatechangehas had a 2,700 percent increase in visitors in the five days since the inauguration, as compared with the five days before. Similarly, the agency’s climate change research page has had a 500 percent increase in visitors.
“It seems like the game they play now is metrics, and those are our metrics,” the contractor said.
The Trump administration had planned to scrub these climate change pages from the EPA’s website, an EPA employee told The Washington Post. But career staffers pushed back against the plan, and the political appointees overseeing the agency have now backed away from it.
The moves to quiet public communication, which included taking down some webpages, such as the Whitehouse.gov page on climate change, fueled concern among scientists and others that the new administration is clamping down on hot-button issues related to science. Mr. Trump has repeatedly expressed doubts about the scientific consensus that human activity is a major contributor to climate change.
A host of Twitter activity has cropped up in recent days seeking to rebut the administration’s actions, including unofficial accounts depicting opposition by EPA, National Park Service and Health and Human Services, all of which already have tens of thousands of followers.
A transition official at the Interior Department said certain unauthorized messages sent out under the name of some national parks were removed or dealt with at the agency level, not at the direction of the White House.
At the EPA, the Trump administration’s transition team is reviewing the agency’s website, which has a trove of scientific data on greenhouse-gas emissions among other research, to determine what stays or goes to reflect the new administration, according to Doug Ericksen, spokesman for the transition effort.
He said the agency hasn’t made any change to how scientific studies are reviewed within the agency. “No, we’re in day three of this administration,” he said on Wednesday.
In various interviews on Thursday, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition chief Myron Ebell confirmed the Trump team would probably seek significant cuts to the agency’s workforce and budget, but would not provide details of specific policy recommendations he made to the president.
Ebell, who told the AP that the federal government has “been staffed with scientists who believe the global-warming alarmist agenda,” floated the idea of downsizing EPA from 15,000 to 5,000 employees as an “aspirational goal” but acknowledged that getting cuts that significant past Congress would be a challenge for the administration.