January 25, 2017

Trump places ridiculous gag order on EPA, USDA scientists

Documents obtained by various media outlets has revealed that the Trump administration has placed a gag order on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibiting employees from communicating with the press.

Furthermore, according to The Guardian and The Verge, the order prohibits members of both agencies – including scientists – from using social media to communicate directly to the public. Emails detailing the new policy at the EPA were first obtained by the Associated Press, while a document sent to USDA employees was first obtained by Buzzfeed News.

The EPA email reportedly prohibits employees at the agency from “providing updates on social media or to reporters,” and also prohibits them from awarding new grants or contracts, according to The Guardian. The emails follow a report published earlier this week by The Hill stating that the new administration is planning to cut the agency’s budget by as much as $800 million.

As for the USDA memo, it was sent to various USDA employees – including those working at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – and ordered them not to release “any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content” until further notice. On Tuesday, the agency told Buzzfeed that the new policy referred only to “informational products like news releases” and that “scientific publications, released through peer reviewed professional journals are not included.”

“As the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, 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,” ARS spokesperson Christopher Bentley told reporters in a statement.

Employees defy, experts respond to the administration’s orders

In addition, as Time reported on Tuesday, officials running the Twitter account of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota tweeted out a series of climate change-related statistics that seem to run counter to the administration’s official stance on the issue – an activity that some believed may have been in defiance of the EPA gag order. Those tweets were later deleted.

That Twitter activity “followed a brief suspension Friday of all National Park accounts... after the National Park Service's official account retweeted two posts that were unflattering toward the Trump administration,” the publication added. One of the tweets “noted the changing language” regarding climate change and other issues on the new White House website. It was later deleted and officials from the Park Service apologized for having shared it.

“President Trump and his administration have ignored scientific reality, and now they’re trying to hide it,” Emily Southard, campaign director of ClimateTruth.org, said in a statement. “Merely five days into Donald Trump’s presidency, the administration is silencing the agencies tasked with protecting our environment, our health, and our food supply.”

Southard said that the move “sets a dangerous precedent and is sending a chilling message to civil servants throughout the country,” adding that researchers “have a right to speak freely and duty to share their research publicly” and that “suppressing... scientists from communicating with the American public is a dangerous move that sets us on a path where policy decisions are divorced from reality.”

The gag order and the freeze on EPA grants and contracts “don’t just threaten scientists – they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water and eats food,” added Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “These agency scientists carry out research in support of policies that protect our health and safety and help farmers, and it makes no sense to put up walls between them and the public, or unilaterally halt the work they do.”


Image credit: Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images