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Two More Government Agencies Axed Climate Change Mentions From Reports and Websites

Politics
Two More Government Agencies Axed Climate Change Mentions From Reports and Websites
A protestor at the 2017 Women's March calls out Trump's climate denialism. Mark Dixon / CC BY 2.0

When the White House website removed all most all references to climate change within minutes of President Donald Trump's inauguration, it set the tone for the administration's environmental policy and led to concerns about how accurately government agencies would be allowed to report climate science during his term.


Those concerns resurfaced Monday when reports emerged that two different government agencies had removed "climate change" from documents and websites, Pacific Standard reported.

The Treasury Department removed mentions of climate change and a section on "climate change resilience" from a draft of a 2017 sustainability report obtained by E&E news.

And the Center for Disease Control (CDC) removed references to climate change from its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website, going so far as to change the name of one web page from "Climate Change and Occupational Safety and Health" to "Occupational Safety and Health and Climate," The Washington Post reported.

The Treasury Department draft was obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act. Reporters compared it to the 2016 sustainability report released by the department under the Obama administration and found that it was nearly identical, except when it came to climate change.

The 2016 report listed the department's progress on 10 environmental goals, including "Goal No. 10: Climate Change Resilience." In the 2017 draft, Goal NO. 10 was left out entirely.

The report was the product of an Obama era executive order mandating that all government agencies update the White House with their progress on 10 environmental goals, among them reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy. Other agencies' 2017 reports continued to mention climate change. Trump reversed the executive order in May.

The CDC changes, on the other hand, were made either on or after November 14, 2016, after Trump was elected but before his inauguration.

The CDC said the changes were "planned updates," but some speculated that they were an attempt by Obama staffers to keep climate related programs safe under Trump by removing obvious references to climate change from the site.

"What they've done is, they've tried to curtail the language and keep their heads down so they can continue doing the work they want to do," outdoor worker kidney disease non-profit La Isla Network co-founder Jason Glaser told The Washington Post.

NIOSH started a working group to address the impacts of climate change on worker health during the Obama administration. Rising temperatures put outdoor workers at greater risk and climate changes may make some jobs, like wildfire fighting, more dangerous.

But the strategy to save the research could still harm the public. Environmental Data and Governance Initiative volunteer Eric Nost told Pacific Standard in January that, while government workers know that alternative phrases like "climate conditions" refer to "climate change", website visitors searching for information might not. The word swap "definitely changes how the public and policymakers understand what the issue is, what's at stake, and what it's related to," Nost said.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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