One of the most damaging aspects of the four years in which America experienced crime-syndicate-as-government was the ruthless attack on facts. From Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” to the elimination of scientific advisory panels, the only consistent agenda of the Trump administration was its persistent attention to its donors’ bottom lines, and disregard of the human need for clean air and water–not to mention a habitable planet and non-toxic foods.
The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration’s political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.
The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staff battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Biden’s political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.
In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had “compromised the integrity” of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a popular weedkiller that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.
The list of suspect decisions and disregard for settled science is expected to reach at least 90 items.
The current E.P.A. administrator, Michael Regan, sent out an email message in which he emphasized the danger of allowing politics to drive science, and the likelihood that making politics the priority would end by sacrificing the health of the “most vulnerable among us.”
President Donald J. Trump’s well-documented attacks on science include doctoring a map with a black Sharpie to avoid acknowledging that he was wrong about the path of a hurricane and then pressuring scientists to back his false claim; meddling in federal coronavirus research; and pressuring regulators to approve Covid 19 vaccines and treatments. Those actions provoked bipartisan concern during his administration.
Those actions may have received the most media coverage, but what really alarmed me was the less noted elimination of scientific panels and the appointment of fossil fuel lobbyists to positions of authority in both the EPA and the Department of the Interior.
Trump’s first choice for the EPA, Scott Pruitt, removed the agency’s web page on climate change and fired and barred any independent scientific advisers who had been awarded grants from the E.P.A. The courts found that latter policy to be illegal. Pruitt also rolled back several scientifically-supported policies after holding meetings with executives and lobbyists.
Andrew Wheeler, who succeeded Pruitt, repeatedly ignored the advice of scientists: he curbed but refused to ban asbestos; insisted that the health effects of a widely-used pesticide were “unresolved” despite years of agency research proving its danger to infants; and pushing through a policy (which has also died in the courts) to limit the type of health and epidemiological studies that could be used to justify regulations.
The incoming staff has uncovered multiple instances in which agency personnel were told to disregard scientific consensus, and to help favored businesses avoid “problems.”
Competence and integrity in government is incredibly important in the development of environmental policy, just as it is in management of a pandemic. Peoples lives–and the livability of the planet–are at stake. The willingness of the Biden Administration to commit to science, fact and empirical knowledge is incredibly welcome.