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National Task Force On Rule Of Law And Democracy Report Slams Trump For War On Science

A new report suggests the war on science will end badly for the United States. Can we turn things around?

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The National Task Force On The Rule Of Law And Democracy is a non-partisan organization affiliated with the Brennan Center For Justice. Its mission is to craft ways to make democracy work for all members of society. It is co-chaired by Preet Bharara, formerly US Attorney for New York, and Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator under George W. Bush. Its latest report warns that the Trump maladministration is creating a crisis of confidence in America’s institutions because of its policy of installing industry shills in positions of authority and relentlessly attacking scientists who do not toe the party line prescribed by the so-called president.

Image by DonkeyHotey (some rights reserved — CC BY-SA 2.0)

None of that will come as a surprise to CleanTechnica readers, who are all too aware of how career administrators have been replaced with lobbyists and climate scientists have been muzzled since the stupidest president in American history took office and turned the country over lock, stock, and barrel to fossil fuel interests.

The Executive Summary of the report says, “In recent years, the norms and expectations that once ensured that our government was guided primarily by the public interest rather than by individual or partisan interest have significantly weakened. There are now far fewer constraints to deter abuse by executive branch actors. This report focuses on two distinct areas: the growing politicization of government science and research and the breakdown of processes for filling key government positions.”

The list of indictments against the present political hacks running things in Washington, DC is long and detailed.

  • The acting White House chief of staff reportedly instructed the secretary of commerce to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — a part of the Department of Commerce — issue a misleading statement in support of the president’s false assertion about the trajectory of a hurricane, contradicting an earlier statement released by the National Weather Service. The secretary of commerce reportedly threatened to fire top NOAA officials in pressuring them to act.
  • The Department of Agriculture relocated economists across the country after they published findings showing the financial harms to farmers of the administration’s trade policies.
  • The Interior Department reassigned its top climate scientist to an accounting role after he highlighted dangers posed by climate change.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted rules that prevent leading experts from serving on science advisory boards and encourage participation by industry-affiliated researchers.
  • The White House suppressed a report showing a toxic substance that is present in several states’ water supplies endangers human health at levels far lower than previously reported by the EPA.

The report says there are now “almost weekly violations” of previously cherished norms, according to reporting by The Guardian. with the current administration attempting “not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves.” The attempt by the EPA a few days ago to revoke California’s long standing exception to the Clean Air Act so it can impose more rigorous emissions standards on motor vehicles is one recent example.

The report echoes complaints by a number of former federal government officials who claim their work on areas such as the climate crisis and pollution standards was either sidelined or subverted by the Trump administration as part of its zeal for environmental deregulation. “Politics is driving decisions and has been for some time,” says Whitman. “Right now, any finding that seems to be restricting business, especially the energy industry, appears to be destined for elimination.”

At the EPA, scientific advisory boards have been redrawn to include more industry representatives. The EPA’s leadership also told scientists to reverse their findings in a report that showed the economic benefits to protecting wetlands from pollution, while suppressing a separate study that found a far greater threat is posed by a toxic chemical in water than previously thought.

“Let’s face it, without credible science the fundamental responsibilities of our government are threatened,” says Thomas Burke, who was a senior official in the EPA’s office of research and development during the Obama administration. “I fear the public has lost faith in our agencies, and our best and brightest are being discouraged and blocked from federal service. As a former federal scientist and veteran of the appointment process I often ask ‘why would anyone want to serve at the highest levels of our science-based agencies in this time of science denial?’ We have to protect our scientists and the integrity of their work.”

The report also criticizes former administrations. Under George W. Bush, climate change was dismissed as irrelevant and the Obama administration largely ignored scientific data that highlighted the dangers of fracking. But what is happening today is just off the charts.

“Government research that is guided by politics, not the facts, can lead to ineffective and costly policy, among other harms, and a dysfunctional appointments process risks stymieing vital government functions. Both developments also threaten to exact a long-term price, if allowed to stand. They risk creating a vicious cycle, opening the door to abuse by future administrations, which may push the envelope ever further.

“We are committed to teaching future administrations the opposite lesson — that these abuses of power violate broadly recognized standards of honest and effective government, long accepted by both political parties. Abuse once again can beget reform. And the task of advancing this reform could not be more urgent, and cannot be for one or another party alone.

“We have big problems to solve in this nation. If we cannot agree on the facts underlying potential solutions to those problems, and we do not have qualified and dedicated people in place to develop and execute on them, we will imperil the future of our democracy. To protect government research from politicization and keep it accessible, we offer proposals that would:

    • create scientific integrity standards and require agencies to establish protocols for adhering to them,
    • prohibit politically motivated manipulation or suppression of research,
    • ensure the proper functioning of scientific advisory committees, and
    • increase public access to government research and data.

Do you remember a time when Americans were proud of their president and their government? Perhaps we should all dedicate ourselves to rebuilding trust in our democratic institutions so that our children will be proud of the nation and its leaders for centuries to come. That’s a goal any country that strives for greatness should aspire to. It begins with not voting for hate-filled, bile-spewing lunatics.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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