Burying Their Heads in the Sand: 11 Times the Trump Administration Quashed Scientific Studies and Data

April 2, 2018 | 4:48 pm
Man on beach with head in the sand.Photo: Peter/CC BY-SA 2.0 (Flickr)
Jacob Carter
Research Director

One of the tactics that the Trump administration uses to get science out of the way of their policymaking decisions is to bury it and pretend like it never existed. This is quite problematic because science-based decisionmaking is ineffective when it doesn’t use…well, science. By trashing the most up-to-date studies and data that could help inform our governments’ science-based decisions, this administration is literally putting people’s lives on the line.

This is why it is so important to stay abreast of what is going on, so we can use our collective power to advocate for our leaders, whose salaries we pay, to do what is right—let science guide the decisionmaking process. We avoided any further cuts to scientific studies and data collection in the latest version of the budget, but we continue to watch where such programs may be cut through the appropriations process via the powers of this administration and Congress.

Here are 11 times the Trump administration has killed, ignored, or suppressed a scientific study or data collection, in no particular order (if you know of others, let me know in the comments).

  1. Environmental Analysis of Mining Operations Near Minnesota Wilderness Halted

The federal government was preparing an environmental impact statement to determine if mining operations to be located on land managed by the US Forest Service nearby Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness would have harmful effects. The Department of Interior (DOI) determined that a less stringent review was required only after a month that the agency decided to renew expired mining leases nearby the wilderness area. The wilderness is home to hundreds of migratory birds and is used for recreational purposes. There are not only concerns that nearby mining operations will harm Boundary Water’s environment, but that such harm would also hurt the region’s economy by driving away those that come to enjoy the wilderness area.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Coal Mining Study Halted

On August 18, 2017, DOI halted a study under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Division of Earth and Life Studies, entitled, “Potential Human Health Effects of Surface Coal Mining Operations in Central Appalachia.” The study was originally requested by states in Appalachia concerned about the health of their citizens. DOI’s reasoning for halting the study was suspicious. The agency said that it was reviewing all grants and contracts costing more than $50,000, but this study was the only one that was halted at the time the decision was made.

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Oil and Gas Development Inspection Study Halted

 Another study aimed at investigating how the DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement could improve its inspections of offshore oil and gas development was halted by the agency. This study was requested by a number of experts and DOI itself in response to the catastrophic April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials from NASEM said that they weren’t given a reason why the study was halted. In its statement on the stop-order of this study, NASEM expressed “disappointment” that this “important study has been stopped.”

  1. Federal Program to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is Abruptly Canceled

The Trump administration cut nearly $214 million in funding for a federal program aimed to prevent teen pregnancy in the US. The five-year grants were ended halfway through their funding cycle across 80 institutions—a decision that is highly unusual. While the decision makes it more difficult for teenagers to access contraceptives, it also prevents researchers who were part of the program from analyzing the data they were collecting. According to notes and emails internal to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the decision to end these grants was directed by political appointees of the Trump administration.

  1. The Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE) Tropics Project is Cut

NGEE-Tropics was a ten-year project that aimed to study how climate change would affect the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth. The Department of Energy (DOE) project would close down nearly seven years before its expected termination date. The project had proved successful to date, resulting in at least sixty peer-reviewed publications and a greater understanding of how these ecosystems function under a changing climate.

  1. Treasury Economists Barred from Producing Study on Tax Reform’s Economic Impact

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that over 100 people were “working around the clock on running scenarios for us” to produce an analysis that would provide evidence that Congress’s proposed $1.5 million tax reform would pay for itself through great economic growth. Treasury economists stated that they were being barred from conducting comprehensive analyses, and that the analyses Secretary Mnuchin described did not exist. The Senate passed this sweeping tax reform on December 19, 2017 without considering any comprehensive analyses of the plan by the Treasury Department’s economists, and in lieu of the consensus of expert economists outside the government that the plan would not pay for itself through economic growth.

  1. Administrator Pruitt Ignores Analysis of HONEST Act Costs

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff-level analysis found that complying with Congress’s proposed “HONEST Act” would cost the agency more than $250 million per year. EPA career staff argued that the HONEST act would incur additional costs and time to implement, would limit research that gets conducted, and would deter industry and academics from working with the agency. The analysis that was sent to Administrator Pruitt’s office from experts at the EPA was to be sent on to the Congressional Budget Office as part of the agency’s analysis of the bill’s expected costs, but the study was never sent.

  1. Data Collection on Workplace Related Injuries No Longer Required

For over 40 years, larger employers in high-hazard industries have been required to keep accurate records of these types of serious, disabling events—and to maintain those records for five years. These records are vital to understanding the extent and nature of serious workplace injuries and illnesses in our nation’s larger workplaces—and preventing them. On a straight party line vote, the Senate repealed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rule clarifying an employer’s obligation to maintain accurate records of serious injuries.

  1. Report on Costs of New Rule Affecting Service Employees’ Tip Wages Buried

In proposing a new rule that would allow employers to control service employees’ tip income, the Trump administration buried a study from economic experts at the Department of Labor (DOL) that estimated service employees will lose approximately $5.8 billion in income if the rule is implemented. The analysis was produced by economic experts at DOL, so the Trump administration sidelined their own employees.

  1. Study Showing Refugees Bring in Tens of Billions of Dollars in Revenue Trashed

The Trump administration wanted to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. The problem: HHS had produced a study that showed refugees actually brought in tens of billions of dollars more in government revenue than they cost. This evidence ran counter to the Trump administration’s rhetoric that refugees and immigrants are an economic burden. The administration’s solution: reject the draft study and produce a three-page final report, which has yet to be released publicly, that discusses only the costs of refugees and none of the benefits.

  1. Collection of Data on Methane Emissions Stopped

On March 1, 2017, nine attorneys general from states with strong oil and gas industry interests and the governors of Texas and Montana asked EPA Administrator Pruitt to suspend an information request to gas and oil operations about their methane emissions and technologies used to reduce them. Just one day later, the EPA withdrew the request so that Pruitt could “assess the need for the information that the agency was collecting.”