Mark Wilson: Substituting politics for science
December 18, 2017
Deep inside a building in Washington, D.C., tucked inside an office within a $25,000 soundproof booth, and protected by dozens of security guards, a government official toils away, tirelessly working to dismantle legal protections that ensure Americans can enjoy their God-given right to clean air, water, and land.
Is this the script to the latest Hollywood thriller, or the plot of a twisted, dystopian novel? No, it is reality, today, every day, here in the United States.
The resume of Scott Pruitt, the person Mr. Trump chose to dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is custom-made for someone assigned to that task. As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt sued the agency he now runs at least 14 times. While serving in the Oklahoma State Senate, he chaired a task force for ALEC, an organization whose stealth business lobbying under the guise of a 501(c)(3) public charity has raised repeated ethical and legal questions. He maintains ties with the Koch Brothers, whose funding of climate change misinformation campaigns is well-documented.
And according to a recent New York Times article, "Since taking office in February, Mr. Trump's EPA chief has held back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates — and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates …" Gone is even a pretense that this administration cares to protect the environment or the health of its citizens from those who threaten it.
Also gone is the idea that scientific studies, evidence, or data should inform scientific decision making in our nation's capitol. For example, based on the scientific evidence of thousands of research studies conducted worldwide, 195 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change countries signed the Paris Climate Accords. Only the U.S. refuses to do so.
Mr. Trump champions coal energy production, even while those in the fossil fuel industry itself recognize the economic and environmental superiority of natural gas and renewables. Department of Energy head Rick Perry is called out by members of Congress for basing his decision to champion coal generation on his "life experiences" rather than his own department's scientific studies. Ryan Zinke, Department of Interior head, reassigns dozens of senior scientific personnel who have spoken out about environmental threats to departments where they no longer have a voice; one senior climate scientist to an accounting position.
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Here in District 1, Rep. Doug LaMalfa proudly claims that he doesn't "believe in" the current climate science, as though we were discussing Bigfoot or ghosts. But science is not something that we can choose to believe or not; it is something that is either proven or disproven. We then choose to either act upon that knowledge or ignore it. When the United States publicly ignores science, we surrender our credibility in the global community and our longstanding leadership in science and technology.
For much of the 20th century and into the 21st, our country has supported and relied on scientific research to advance medical breakthroughs and technologies that have been the envy of the world. Now, valid, peer-reviewed scientific information, already paid for by American taxpayers, is steadily being erased off government websites because it contradicts the administration's political worldview. If those facts don't match the administration's political position, they are considered no longer valid — regardless of their acceptance among worldwide experts.
This is not a case of reframing policy positions to align with a new administration's goals; this is the deliberate, targeted elimination of scientifically proven facts because they don't support the current administration's political position. This is not what democracies do.
Government officials truly seeking to protect the health and well-being of America's citizens and environment don't need an expensive soundproof booth, closed-door meetings, a massive security detail, and teams of staff scrubbing websites. They just need sound information and the will to use it to develop good public policy.
Those other things are only necessary when you're shirking your responsibility to protect the health and well-being of those who pay your salary and you don't want them to find out.
Mark Wilson lives in Nevada City.