Trump Muzzles Scientists, Elon Musk Shills for Former ExxonMobil CEO

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

The muzzling of government scientists and agencies  that people warned about [see: Harper, Trump & Science a la Carte: A Warning From Canada] has begun under the Trump Administration.

Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have seen directives from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate to the public, according to multiple sources.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

All of the agencies affected by the actions have some input on issues related to the environment and have been involved in various efforts related to climate change, including effects on natural resources and human health.

On Tuesday, a source at the EPA said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named.

I think it’s only a matter of time before we seen similar restrictions imposed upon NASA, NOAA and the Department of Energy. All three agencies are involved in climate change research.

Meanwhile, the Badlands National Park Twitter account posted and then deleted a series of tweets about global warming today. The National Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior.

[UPDATE: The National Park Service has issued a statement saying the Badlands Tweets were done by a former employee who was not authorized to access the account. The Park Service says it removed the Tweets on its own accord and not on orders by the Trump Administration. However, the Administration’s broader crackdown has spurred the creation of a number of unofficial Alt and Rogue Twitter accounts about the Park Service, NASA and other government agencies.]

Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued the following statement.

“These actions don’t just threaten scientists—they threaten everyone in the country who breathes air, drinks water and eats food. 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.

“Both the EPA and the USDA have developed scientific integrity policies that, among other things, protect scientists’ right to speak out about their work. The American people deserve to know the results of taxpayer-funded research.

“Halting the EPA’s grants and contracts is equally short-sighted and destructive. As we saw in past government shutdowns, you can’t just turn scientific research on and off like a switch. We know that scientists can lose years of work, businesses can see investments lost and communities can be deprived of information they need to make good decisions. EPA grants and contracts include efforts like water safety testing and hazardous waste disposal—work that you can’t just walk away from without exposing communities to preventable risks.

“If you care about clean air, clean water and policies that actually protect people, you need the best independent science—a nd actions like this make it harder for Americans to benefit from science. That the administration has moved so quickly to clamp down on scientists shows that the Trump administration is more focused on lifting rules on polluters than keeping our air and water clean.

“The scientific community is ready to fight back against any efforts to marginalize or suppress science and undermine science-based policies and research people depend on. More than 5,500 scientists have come together to say that President Trump must respect the role of science. These actions are the clearest sign yet that he isn’t living up to that standard.”

Science is not a la carte. You can’t pick and choose what results to believe based on whether or not they comport with your politics. Gagging agencies and scientists doesn’t make their findings, or the problems they point to, suddenly go away. It simply postpones the reckoning.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk — electric car and solar power guy who believes global warming is a serious threat — has been publicly shilling for former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to become the next secretary of state.

Surprising? Not really. Musk has managed to work his way into Trump’s circle of economic advisors. My guess is staying there and wielding influence involves things like this. There’s nothing that Trump values more than loyalty. (Well, maybe there is one other thing….)

Fair enough. But, Tillerson also represents the nation’s oil interests. And he would be part of an administration that is gagging agencies and their scientists about the impacts of that industry. Trump is also focused on returning oil, gas and coal to their glory days.  (Suggested slogan: “Carbon today! Carbon tomorrow! Carbon forever!”)

But, Musk doesn’t acknowledge this reality, or the restrictions on the scientists and their agencies, or the administration’s intention to gut NASA Earth science, or roll back environmental regulations, or the claims that global warming is based on politicized science that should not be taken seriously. In short, he’s not looking at anything Trump has publicly said, done or promised to do.

Instead, Musk pins his hopes on a series of vague statements by Tillerson during his confirmation hearing.

A seat at what table? What actions should be taken? Are we now giving brownie points for acknowledging climate change exists? What the hell does any of that actually mean?

There already is a global response to climate change. It’s called the Paris Agreement. It has 194 signatories representing 125 parties. And Trump has promised to take the United States out of it.

All this reminds me of the time Lisa Simpson took a tour of a newspaper printing facility.

zero is a percent
Tillerson tries to sound reasonable on climate change, but when you get beneath the surface, Trump is doing the exact opposite.

UPDATE: Here’s the memo to EPA employees concerning communications.

There’s also this from Reuters: Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources

The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA’s communications team to remove the website’s climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said.

“If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear,” one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.

UPDATE: Science Magazine reports the administration has backed away from those plans after the public uproar.

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  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    But you realize McCarthy’s advisor worked as Mr T’s lawyer from the early 70’s until the early 90’s? Look up a man named Roy Cohn there’s some fine history to read there.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I said I was done but dang, you got me. Now we are into SciFi fiction apocalypse as driving factor how on how to develop society, wow. I’m much worse than you think, water is only the beginning. Water is sort of silly to boil long term, much better to heat Sodium or Salt. High temperature and low pressure makes for a more efficient cycle and safer system if the entire thing isn’t running at a few thousand PSI. This means you don’t have to build such a large containment (to accommodate water to steam expansion) and much cheaper operations and construction. Plumbing at low pressure much cheaper to build and operate. Also the waste heat can drive high temperature chemical processing at industrial scale much more cost effectively than today. All with zero foreign sources of fuel, zero CO2 emissions and night or day, windy or calm. Oil drove the industrial revolution (we would not be here today without it). Think about what a meltdown looks like if the fuel is already a liquid? It doesn’t happen, the failure mode is gone. Much like EBR II engineered failure modes out of the system by allowing the fundamental physics control thermal expansion of fuel pins (geometry of the core) and curb reaction, if coolant system shutdown or plant blackout occurred. This is all doable and done in most cases. Except for namby-pambys who rather complain about global warming while running their society on carbon. Who hear Plutonium and run for the hills like a boogie man showed up at their front door. The utter lack of education around nuclear issues in society is appalling.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yea dude I passed middle school too. That’s why I said he broke a norm, one established by George Washington….imagine if Trump was the guy to break that one…FDR attempted to pack court so he could push unconstitutional agenda…imagine if Trump did this? Although my bet is Doug doesn’t mind of FDR’s actions.

  • Mr Snarky Answer
  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    And I presume that when Mr Trump’s administration gets creative along similar lines you’ll be just as indignant?

    My family lines were heavy FDR supporters back then, but they looked the other way at his excesses based on his performance in WWII. Most of them were relieved he died in office at the end of the war, and were relieved that Truman was not at all like FDR. From my growing up surrounded by the WWII generation, I don’t think that was uncommon. Politics were different then. My great grandfather was a member of the American Bund party in NJ and had 5 son’s in the war, hated FDR for dragging us into the war. Voted for him every time.

    If any president tried that today, even if it was president Lord God Jehova, I’d want him impeached. We’re a different electorate, and different politicians. Most Americans now look the other way when their president violates the US Constitution or undermines American principle, but thinks the world is ending when it’s not their man doing the very same thing.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    “And I presume that when Mr Trump’s administration gets creative along similar lines you’ll be just as indignant?”

    Yes because I didn’t support him. However, I suspect FDR’s level of creativity won’t be matched. Could you imagine congress working with administration to add seats to SC? Incidentally I opposed Obama rewriting immigration law via executive order too. I am for limiting executive power, all federal power, really well before Trump came around.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Musk has companies in New York, California, Texas, Florida & Nevada. I don’t think that Trump wants to pass off all those state’s Senators & Representatives.

  • Kapitalist

    You reply does in no way relate to my post. I said that Elon Musk will quit advocating the climate doomsday and will instead advocate patriotism and greatness. This is what is happening now that he meets with and formally advises Trump and endorses representatives of big oil. He never cared about the climate doomsday myth, that was just convenience as long as the government paid money for such empty talk. Now he endorses the total opposite because that is convenient. His only goal is to go to Mars.

  • Kapitalist

    Bankrupting the US. Humiliating the US military by a long string of total defeats. Handing the entire Middle East to Iran and Russia. Supporting Clinton. That is what the neocons have done. If you make up fantasies about the neocons having had other intentions, then you are pipedreaming.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    EPA should’ve sent their climate change data to Canada and Europe if Hitler Josef Stalin Trump wants to impose a pre-WW2 Japanese style imperialistic dictatorship on the federal government and the nation.

  • Vladislaw

    and you went to great lengths avoiding answering the question.

  • The Other Dr. Phil

    I find it odd that Doug didn’t update the article to this effect. While I disagree with some of his op-eds I find him to be fair with facts, and the juxtaposition of the tweets in his article is deceptive, bordering on “fake news” as the reason those tweets were pulled has nothing to do with the context of the article.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    So the crazy lib Elon Musk who voted for Obama twice and advocated all the pet causes of libs is suddenly Public Enemy #1 because he recognized the competency and other merits of Rex Tillerson. One misstep off the lib reservation and you’re banished from the polite society!

  • Douglas Messier

    The guy’s 70 years old. Undoubtedly his actual skin is getting thicker and more leathery. I wouldn’t expect him to suddenly mature at this stage in his life.

  • The Other Dr. Phil

    Another correction: “Trump officials suspend plan to delete EPA climate web pages”.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/01/trump-officials-suspend-plan-delete-epa-climate-web-page

  • Douglas Messier

    So I’ve got a commenter commenting under a fake name complaining about fake news. That’s funny. But I don’t imagine you intended it that way.

    Just because I haven’t updated the story doesn’t mean I don’t intend to. It means I haven’t gotten to it. OK?

    And an update is exactly what it will be. Fake news is making shit up that you know is not true. It’s as if I wrote, “The guy commenting under the fake name The Other Doctor Phil is not a doctor. He’s an inmate at Attica doing a life term for triple murder.”

    Now, that’s fake. At least as far as I know.

    If you start labeling every mistake or every news item that needs to be updated because the initial information is wrong, then the term has no meaning.

    You made a mistake in categorizing this as bordering on fake news while posting under a fake name. You should try to be a bit more tolerant of others.

  • Douglas Messier

    That’s an update. Not a correction. The Trump administration backed off the plan after I published this post.

  • The Other Dr. Phil

    Sure. I just saw numerous new stories and replies by you without addressing and existing issue in this existing story.

    Like I said, I generally find you to be fair and level-headed and although I often disagree with your op-eds I find them valuable to check my own biases. Keep fighting the good fight.

  • Douglas Messier

    I’ve updated the story as you suggested. I’ve also written a new post that also provides updates on the reports. You are right. I should have done this earlier. But, I got caught up in responding to comments and I was also busy with other things,

    Part of the problem was wanting to sit down and review all the conflicting reports and really understand what was real and what might have been misreported. I finally had a chance to do that tonight.

    I’m sorry if I came off too harsh on you. I get upset when someone says fake news. As I said, it’s a phrase that’s been thrown around too much and has been misapplied to honest mistakes made with breaking news. People honestly get things wrong. None of us is perfect.

    I do appreciate your readership. I appreciate that you took the time to comment. It means you care. I enjoy the debates, even if I disagree often with people. Things will get heated from time to time. I hope I did not offend you too much.

  • windbourne

    Fair point. Still, one can hope. After all there is nothing like being the most powerful person on the planet.

  • windbourne

    That is why I’m for gen 4 reactors. No human intervention needed. In addition, with the SMR, I continue to wonder if we can make a more generic site that can take multiple reactor types. It would be nice to create a site with say 2 mPowers, and then later add several trans atomic or flible that will make use of mPowers waste.

  • The Other Dr. Phil

    I get it. No worries. As someone who reports news and views I get that “fake news” could be triggering whereas its a term many of us bandy around outside that sphere. I should have been a bit more careful in my verbiage.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Agreed but Gen III+ is very good, days of inaction after SBO and plant stays safe. Yes, we should have a strategic approach to use “waste” which isn’t anything other than tons of fuel for a breeder (Either PRISM, TWR or LFTR). All very doable these days, and in fact demonstrated in the 70s (EBRII and MSRE); just will power and ignorant stains in the way. That is why I find the whole debate on global warming so sad. People hung up on the climate science debates when the issue could be largely moot already. Lots of electricity makes the electric transport a lot easier too.

  • windbourne

    I am not a fan of the gen 3+. They still require a lot of human interaction to prevent meltdown, which they are fully capable of.
    Worse, GE is now having lots of their parts come from China, which should scare ANYBODY who care about their nation.

    Finally, none of the G3+ are capable of being built cheaper than wind, let alone cheap.
    OTOH, the Gen 4s with their SMRs appear to have the right designs for getting prices way down.
    Similar to what Ft. St. Vrain was.

  • windbourne

    I do have to say that I am a fan of AE, but we should NEVER depend on any one form of energy more than 1/3. In addition, Both wind and solar count on the sun. Lose the sun (such as a Yellowstone eruption for 1-2 years) and you lose nearly all wind and solar. So together, at most, 33%, if not 25%.
    Add in geo-thermal and fission, and later fusion, for 75%, and things are good.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Agree that no one should put all eggs in one basket. But wind isn’t reference price, nat gas is. I think we would do well to replace aging plants with NRC ready to go ones that are much safer and less operationally expensive while investing in Gen4. I think then there is opportunity for costs to be competitive or lower than fossil fuels. In the meantime I think pushing wind farms to makeup for all those old plants and dealing with intermittency and diffuse nature is much murkier. Either way we are in a bind of our own making, not the least of the blame goes on the very types complaining the loudest these days.

  • James

    I think the key problem for many people is they no longer see anything from the other side. Or even with to.

    You complain about muzzling but for the past decade and more the left lead by the progressives have gotten more and more aggressive at using the power of the public to threaten and silence anyone who even thinks to bring up a argument against their views,

    I mean Hell I’m 32 raised in the south with a biracial family, been in a relationship with a person of color, etc but from the time I was 7 or 8 I knew society viewed me as a evil, ignorant white boy. Later I learned I was “privileged” while working 10hr days in the cold outside and stupid summer heat while eating my Romen noodles from dollar stores.

    Trump was elected by people who are tired of being crapped on and ignored. The point of democracy is that EVERYONE regardless of their view gets heard. The left forgot this and it has bitten them in the butt,

    “Yes to all of that. This is just the beginning. It goes far beyond gaining control. it’s about shutting down things that don’t fit their politics and their economic self interest.”

    You mean like the left and its politicians have done for the past 8 years and more?

    All you had to do was listen and you know be democratic but no one could spend the time. So….here is Trump.

    PS. I didn’t vote for him, don’t like him but between him getting elected and the marches where I am told to be silent because I lack a vagina I kind of wish I had.

  • James

    I agree global warming is real and a threat where I disagree is what the solutions are. All to often they seem to benefit those at the top while placing the poor into a nice pin to be fed, watered, and controlled.

    Hell, everyone ask why coal states are so evil but never ask why people don’t talk about bringing in jobs to replace those lost in the communities the coal jobs disappeared from.

    So again telling me I have to accept your demands while ignoring my questions and then telling me If I do all you ask it will guilt trip China and India into doing the same…..