What's Going on at EPA, USDA-ARS?
Today, information is shared at an unprecedented speed. Not so at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), both of which have been conspicuously silent online this week.
That silence is no accident, according to an internal EPA memo obtained by The Hill and reported by Huffington Post. According to the memo, EPA staff were informed of the following restrictions, which are “effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction” from the Trump administration.
- No press releases
- No social media
- No blog posts
- No new content on websites
The memo also said incoming media requests would be carefully screened, list servers would be reviewed and external speaking engagements would be scrutinized.
Meanwhile, Sharon Drumm, ARS chief of staff, has sent an email to ARS employees with this direction: “Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents. This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”
However, reports that ARS has scrubbed public information from its website are incorrect, per the agency’s office of communications. ARS released a statement Jan. 24, which maintains: ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Information on our projects, people, and locations are available on our website as always, at www.ars.usda.gov.
And a source within ARS also tells AgWeb these directives say nothing that would prevent scientists from submitting research reports to scientific journals or attending professional conferences.
“[It] seems less draconian than some might be looking for,” the source informs AgWeb.
The Trump administration is widely expected to take a much different approach to environmental regulations, climate science and other areas that affect these agencies. Separate leaked memos to Axios, including the transition team’s EPA “agency action” plan, indicate EPA could potentially see around $800 million in cuts, including:
- Ending Waters of the U.S. rule
- Ending Clean Air Act greenhouse regulations for new and existing coal and natural gas power plants
- Ending Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements for the Chesapeake Bay
- Cuts to state and trial assistance grants
- Terminating climate programs
- Banning the agency from funding its own science
- Freezing grants
“Environmental Protection Agency is set for an absolute hammering under Trump,” Axios concludes.
But Myron Ebell, who has been tapped to lead the EPA transition, told ProPublica that there is a logical reason behind these moves.
“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen,” he says. “This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it’s very similar to what others have done.”
Even so, Axios argues that some of these plans will cause “discomfort” for some Republicans: “It will cost the administration political capital.” Axios also suggests there are enough environmental and climate science “true believers” entrenched in EPA, which will make sweeping changes even more difficult.
“These thousands of people will dig in and make it very difficult for the thin layer of political appointees atop these agencies to move quickly to undo their years of work to put these things in place,” Axios notes.