The ABCs of Sidelining Science by the Trump Administration

May 29, 2018 | 4:42 pm
Andrew Rosenberg
Former Contributor

As the school year comes to a close, I took a look at what lessons the Trump administration has taught us about science. It’s a harsh lesson for our children and families, adding up to harms that will touch all of our lives. As someone who is immersed in watchdogging this administration, I was surprised how many new things I learned about how the Administration is dismantling public health and safety protections, increasing security threats, and attempting to undermine the role of government in serving All the people.

Here are the ABCs of Sidelining Science:


is for ATSDR, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, whose report was suppressed on water pollution. Or the AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT, where Secretary Perdue has betrayed the trust of farmers and the public. Or ATTACKS ON SCIENCE, which occur at an alarming rate all across the Administration.


is for BERYLLIUM, which puts workers at risk—but the Administration has halted regulations to protect them. Or Dr. Nancy BECK, an appointee to lead efforts on regulating toxic chemicals despite massive conflicts of interest. Or  David BERNHARDT, who similarly has conflicts of interest in his job at Interior.  Or BLACK LUNG disease, which has afflicted miners for decades—but protections from coal dust were rolled back by the Administration.


is for the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, CASAC, now led by Dr. Tony Cox, a consultant to polluting industry for many years. Or CHLORPYRIFOS, a pesticide that impacts brain development in children, impacts endangered species, and is widely used on fruits and vegetables. EPA Administrator Pruitt rejected the science on this pesticide and refuses to restrict its use.  Or CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, which are rife in this administration, from the President to agency heads and political staff. Instead of draining the swamp, the President has brought conflicted lobbyists and business people into the agencies directly. Or CHEMICAL DISASTERS, which unfortunately are still an all too regular occurrence. But the EPA, in a recent proposed rule, wants to roll back all preventive measures at chemical facilities in order to reduce costs for industry, while ignoring impacts on the public. And of course, CLIMATE CHANGE, which is roundly ignored by administration officials and actions including communications to the public.


is for DATA SUPPRESSION, as webpages have been deleted or studies and grants cancelled. Or DOURSON, the nominee to serve at a senior position in the EPA who represented industry and dismissed the impact of toxics. His nomination was defeated due to widespread outrage. Or the DISINFORMATION PLAYBOOK, a set of tactics that some bad actors starting with the tobacco industry have developed, which now seem to be part and parcel of the Administration’s strategy to sideline science.


is for ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, the disproportionate public health and environmental impacts on low income communities and communities of color. The Trump Administration has sidelined environmental justice efforts as well as science. Or ESA, the Endangered Species Act, which Congress and the Administration are trying to weaken, particularly on public lands, to make room for oil and gas development. Or the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION Agency, which is mired in the scandals of Scott Pruitt and at the center of efforts to roll back public health protections. The agency’s science budget was on the chopping block by the President but was saved by Congress once the impact of the cuts became clearer.


is for Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), which has revealed that the EPA and other agencies are only listening to industry at the expense of the public. Or Fuel Efficiency as the EPA seeks to roll back standards for cars that were previously agreed to by the automakers and have enormous benefits. Or FEDERAL SCIENTISTS, vilified or ignored by this administration, but whose work does so much good for the country!


is for GUIDANCE MEMO, which is the way that agencies tell the public how they interpret their congressional mandates. The Justice Department has declared they won’t use this guidance in enforcing the rules, causing great confusion and opening up a huge gap for those with deep pockets in industry to avoid compliance. Or GUN VIOLENCE RESEARCH, which was banned from study at the CDC until recently even though guns are the cause of more deaths than auto accidents in recent years.


is for Hazardous Air Pollutants, which are likely to dramatically increase under new legal guidance put in place by the EPA, which was prepared by a former industry lobbyist now leading the Office of Air, William Wehrum.


is for INDEPENDENT SCIENCE, as the EPA has tried to pack its board of external science advisors with those with ties to industry and exclude academics. Or INTERIOR Department, where senior career staff such as Dr. Joel Clement were arbitrarily and capriciously reassigned to inappropriate jobs. Or IMMIGRATION policy of this Administration, which of course impacts science and scientists among all the other reasons it harms our country. Or IRAN and the dangerous act of withdrawing from the agreement to prevent the production of nuclear weapons.


is for North KOREA, which our Global Security Program tracks so carefully to debunk the myths. And L is for Public LANDS that the Interior Department is rapidly opening to private oil and gas development.


is for MACT—the Maximum Available Control Technology for cancer-causing pollutants that political appointees at the EPA say imposes too high a cost on the industries that release these chemicals into our air.


is for National Ambient Air Quality Standards, NAAQS, which are supposed to be set on public health criteria only—but the EPA is seeking to add economic and social factors to these limits. Or the need for federal agency professionals to make a NOTE FOR THE RECORD because some agencies are refusing to keep a written record of meetings and decision-making to avoid public scrutiny.


is for Ozone, a major public health pollutant that the EPA is re-evaluating and may increase allowable levels. Or the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, OIRA, in the White House, which seems to be abdicating its responsibility to ensure regulations are based on a fair process with a clear analysis. Or the Office of Government Ethics, OGE, which should be addressing the conflicts of interest that are rife across this government from the White House on down.


is for PFAS or PFOA, chemicals that have been used in many products such as Teflon and in fire suppressing foam used by the military, which now contaminate water supplies across the country and particularly on military bases affecting military families. Or PUBLIC HEALTH, the primary mission of the EPA, which is too often ignored in this Administration.


is for a Question on citizenship that the Justice Department wants to add to the Census even though there is substantial evidence it will result in misestimating our population, with wide-ranging effects on the distribution of government spending as well as elections.


is for RESTRICTED SCIENCE that can be used in making public health and safety regulations as proposed by the EPA. Or REGULATORY ROLLBACK, which is a hallmark of the Trump Administration but harms the health and safety of us all. Or the EPA’s RISK MANAGEMENT PLAN for chemical facilities that Pruitt has proposed should not contain any measures to prevent accidents.


is for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, SAB, which now is excluding academic scientists with grants in favor of scientists employed by industry. Or SUPERFUND, which is intended to clean up toxic waste sites but seems to be dragging even though it is supposedly an EPA priority. Or SEA LEVEL RISE, one of the most immediate and costly impacts of our changing climate—even while the President denies climate change is occurring.


is for the Toxic Substances Control Act, TSCA, now being implemented by a former chemical industry lobbyist. Or TIP RULES from the Department of Labor, which ignored the analysis that showed workers would be hurt if employers were allowed to control the distribution of tip revenue.


is for the URBAN ECONOMY, which will be badly impacted by the proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the Farm Bill if it passes.


is for VOTING RIGHTS under attack in this Administration in a way that threatens our democracy. Or VITTER a particularly egregious judicial nominee who seems to deny fundamental scientific evidence on a regular basis.


is for WORD BAN at the Centers for Disease Control to remove words that are politically unpopular in some circles. Or WORKER SAFETY, which should be continually improving but has been undermined by the Trump Administration.


is for XENOPHOBIC divisions in our society, stoked by the President  and harmful to all of us.


is for Dr. Richard YAMADA at the EPA Office of Research and Development, who is leading the charge to restrict independent science at the agency.


is for Department of Interior Secretary ZINKE, who is undermining the historic mission of the agency by shrinking National Monuments, opening public lands, and sidelining science and scientists across the Department.

It’s time to stand up for science and people

Now you know your ABCs. My colleague Shreya Durvasula called this “the world’s saddest children’s book.” My goal is not to depress you, but to remind everyone what’s at stake and why we need to fight back against these harmful actions.

For each of these issues (and unfortunately many more), the Union of Concerned Scientists has sought to explain why these actions matter, and how we can come together to fight back so we, once again, can work toward having a government that is by and for the people. So whether you are most concerned with Global Security or Climate Change or Public Health or all of the above, it is time to do something! Go to the UCS Action Center and see how you can get involved.