In a draft special report meant to summarize the current state of climate science, the report’s authors were unequivocal: Climate change is real, it’s happening now, and it will have major consequences for the United States.
The special report is was supposed to be part of a larger report known as the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is legally mandated to produce every four years. But while the Trump administration — which has time and again publicly challenged the scientific consensus on climate change — may acquiesce to the report’s publication, President Donald Trump seems to be taking care to ensure that its findings will not translate to action. Over the weekend, he disbanded the advisory council created to help policymakers and private officials translate the report’s findings into policy.
According to the Washington Post, NOAA’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the chair of the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment on Friday that the panel’s charter, which was set to expire on Sunday, would not be renewed. The committee, which was first created in 2015, consisted of 15 members and drew from both academic institutions and private-sector businesses.
Environmental and climate groups decried the move to disband the committee as part of the Trump administration’s larger attack on scientific fact.
“It’s part of a pattern from this administration of ignoring or suppressing facts that don’t match their ideological agenda or the preferences of powerful interest groups,” Keith Gaby, senior communications director for the Environmental Defense Fund told ThinkProgress via email. “The rejection of facts, planning, and experts on climate change will damage our economy and harm our children’s future. Scientists are warning us that the climate is changing and to shut out the best advice for how to deal with it is reckless – but sadly not surprising from Trump and Pruitt.”
Environmental groups also worried that disbanding the National Climate Assessment advisory committee would leave the federal government ill-prepared to enact policy aimed at preventing the worst economic and public health consequences associated with climate change. Just last week, Trump issued an executive order rolling back Obama-era flood protection standards, which required any federal infrastructure project built in a floodplain to be constructed in a way that protected against damage from flooding. The move garnered swift criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with groups from the Sierra Club to Taxpayers for Common Sense saying the move would waste tax-payer dollars.
In guarding against any potential suppression of the National Climate Assessment, environmental groups do have some precedence on which to base their fears. While the assessment is required by Congress to be done every four years, it has only come out three times since established under the Global Research Act of 1990 — first in 2000, then 2009, and, most recently, in 2014. The George W. Bush administration successfully slow-walked release of the report for years, only releasing the study after legal action by environmental groups.
Fearing that the Trump administration — which has continuously rolled back climate policies and challenged science in its initial months — would try a similar tactic, environmental groups were already gearing up to challenge any attempt at delay or suppression — a fear also held by some scientists, according to a New York Times report earlier this month. The Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the Bush administration over its delay, told ThinkProgress that it was monitoring the administration “very closely,” and noted that the administration was legally compelled to release the final report no matter than May of 2018.
Before the final report is released, however, it must be approved by more than a dozen federal agencies, from NOAA and the EPA to the Department of Health and Human Services. Friday marked the deadline for 13 federal agencies to respond to the draft climate science report, an internal deadline that environmental groups noted would be difficult to verify in the absence of public comment by agencies. But Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, told ThinkProgress that the administration’s move to disband the National Climate Assessment’s advisory panel on the same day as the deadline for responding to the climate science section did not instill confidence that the administration would treat the report as an impartial overview of climate science.
“This is an ominous sign that the Trump administration will try to alter or suppress the nation’s top science report on climate change,” Siegel said. “If Pruitt or others try to interfere with this crucial assessment of climate change’s damage to the United States, we’ll go back to court to stop them.”
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has already expressed his desire to conduct a separate review of the climate science special report, telling a Texas radio show that the report “ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation” and that “science should not be politicized.” Scientists criticized Pruitt’s remarks, noting that the climate science report already undergoes both a period of independent public comment and rigorous peer-review by the National Academies of Sciences.
“This report is one of, if not the most thoroughly peer-reviewed report on climate change ever produced in the United States,” Katharine Hayhoe, a lead author of the report and a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, told E&E News. “Not only has it been reviewed by peers, not only has it been reviewed by every relevant federal agency already once, not only has it been open for public review, it was reviewed by a committee convened by the National Academy of Sciences specifically for the purpose of reviewing this report.”