In the continuing struggle to keep my eye on the policy ball rather than the pitcher’s ridiculous haircut:
U.S. Government agency websites, like the EPA website, provide lots of information about how the new administration is working on harming the country. I’m not a professional journalist, so I have not courted contacts in government and cajoled leaks out of federal employees (or alternatively, caught bundles of documents they’ve flung at me in desperation). But I can read information in plain sight.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency in charge of keeping our air and water pure by means of environmental regulations, has a website full of lots of useful information, but as of Inauguration Day, much activity there stops. A blog there called “Our Planet, Our Home” has hosted short pieces by EPA employees about their research, clean-up projects, environmental justice activities, and other things they do as agency employees. The highly positive, up-beat tone of these blog posts suggests they are run through some communications/PR people in the agency. That positive tone, however, helps promote the mission of the agency.
The last post, however, is Jan. 18, two days before the Inauguration. Before that, posts had been appearing in a fairly steady stream since April 2008 when the blog started, and there was no interruption in the flow till January 2017. Somebody decided to end that positive tone promoting the agency’s mission.
The site has a page called Climate Change Newsroom, with links to press releases about climate change. It has stories about research findings, regulation news, and grants studying or dealing with the results of climate change. The flow of news releases stop in mid-January, just before the Inauguration.
Another page called Air Topics includes links to data about pollutants and to press releases about regulations, enforcement, and research. Once again, the steady flow of press releases halts on January 19. It’s important to notice the kind of information this page is no longer releasing. The last one released, “EPA Proposes Action on Fairbanks, Alaska Air Quality Plan,” is about the persistence of fine particulate matter in the Fairbanks air in the winter when a lot of people are burning wood to heat their homes, but a seasonal inversion traps the dirty air in the city. It’s a public health hazard, and the release is about the problem as well as what the EPA, the Alaska State EPA, and the City of Fairbanks will now be doing about it. Just the day before, they announced, “Tauber Oil Company Settles Allegations of Selling Unregistered Fuel Additive in Violation of Clean Air Act.” Catching violations of environmental law is another part of the agency’s mission, after all, and announcing this $700,000 penalty would, presumably, be a deterrent to other businesses tempted to cut corners. And a few days before that, they released information about some good news from EPA-sponsored research: “EPA Report Shows Air Emissions of Toxic Chemicals from Industrial Facilities in Florida Down More Than Half Since 2005.” Announcements of these actions, fines, and reports thump to a dead stop as President Trump takes office.
Presumably, press institutions pick up these press releases and then use them to report on the agency’s actions. Not releasing such information means the public is less aware of what the agency is doing for it and, thus, less supportive of the agency when it is under attack (as it is right now, with the President’s proposal to drastically cut its budget). Alternative explanations: people have quit, people have been fired, work has been ordered halted, enforcement has stopped, research has been cancelled or suppressed, or somebody just somehow forgot to post the data. The explanation that seems most reasonable to me, however, is that, given the new administration’s hostility to the EPA, reducing its public profile is a way to make it vulnerable to the budget ax.
I am pleased to notice, however, that on a page called Chemicals and Toxics Topics, the news releases have continued. And Water Topics also has kept posting, though the lead story there is a terse statement that President Trump has ordered the EPA to “to review and then rescind or revise” the Waters of the United States rule and that the new Administrator, Scott Pruitt intends to implement the order right away. Why have these news releases continued while others have stopped?