President Trump’s War on Science

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The news was hard to digest until one realized it was part of a much larger and increasingly disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The $1 million study had been requested by two West Virginia health agencies following multiple studies suggesting increased rates of birth defects, cancer and other health problems among people living near big surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia. The order to shut it down came just hours before the scientists were scheduled to meet with affected residents of Kentucky.

The Interior Department said the project was put on hold as a result of an agencywide budgetary review of grants and projects costing more than $100,000.

This was not persuasive to anyone who had been paying attention. From Day 1, the White House and its lackeys in certain federal agencies have been waging what amounts to a war on science, appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population, and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy.

Even allowing for justifiable budgetary reasons, in nearly every case the principal motive seemed the same: to serve commercial interests whose profitability could be affected by health and safety rules.

The coal mining industry is a conspicuous example. The practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at underlying coal seams has been attacked for years by public health and environmental interests and by many of the families whose livelihoods depend on coal. But Mr. Trump and his department heads have made a very big deal of saving jobs in a declining industry that is already under severe pressure from market forces, including competition from cheaper natural gas. An unfavorable health study would inject unwelcome reality into Mr. Trump’s rosy promises of a job boom fueled by “clean, beautiful coal.”

This is a president who has never shown much fidelity to facts, unless they are his own alternative ones. Yet if there is any unifying theme beyond that to the administration’s war on science, apart from its devotion to big industry and its reflexively antiregulatory mind-set, it is horror of the words “climate change.”

This starts with Mr. Trump, who has called global warming a hoax and pulled the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. Among his first presidential acts, he instructed Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to deep-six President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to roll back Obama-era rules reducing the venting from natural gas wells of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Mr. Trump has been properly sympathetic to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but the fact that there is almost certainly a connection between a warming earth and increasingly destructive natural events seems not to have occurred to him or his fellow deniers. Mr. Pruitt and his colleagues have enthusiastically jumped to the task of rescinding regulations that might address the problem, meanwhile presiding over a no less ominous development: a governmentwide purge of people, particularly scientists, whose research and conclusions about the human contribution to climate change do not support the administration’s agenda.

10sun1-master675.jpgCelia Jacobs

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