EPA Website Change Suggests Self-Censorship on Climate

The Environmental Protection Agency's website has gotten a makeover since the Trump administration took office, with some references to climate change now wiped from its pages.  

But the agency removed the word "climate" from a division's name well before President Donald Trump's inauguration, suggesting that EPA employees started constraining information in anticipation of an incoming chill from the new administration.

The division once known as Climate Ready Water Utilities was quietly rebranded as the Creating Resilient Water Utilities in late December, according to archived web pages. By then, Myron Ebell had been in place as head of the agency's transition team for more than a month. Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute who has long promoted climate denial in his work, was considered a threat to the agency's mission by many of the career employees.

"Early on things disappeared, and then they reappeared," said Patty Lovera, assistant director at the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. "It's a rational theory to worry if people are trying to keep under the radar to protect the core mission."

The EPA has not yet responded to requests for comment.

In January, several reports emerged  that the new administration ordered the agency to take down its climate change page. But that page remains up, albeit with some changes.

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) has been tracking those changes, which have included the removal of language that says the U.S. is committed to international climate pledges and that carbon pollution is the driving cause of climate change.

"I don't know what the motivation was on the timing, but it sure does raise concerns," Lovera said, referring to the renaming of the division. "They're recognizing the symptoms, but they can't talk about the disease... It seems silly to have people plan for extreme weather and not have a conversation about what's driving it."

The Climate Ready Water Utilities division, launched by EPA to help water utilities cope with threats from climate change, had appeared poised to get a boost in the EPA's budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, prepared toward the end of the Obama administration. It called for additional technical help to 25 urban areas and training for 1,000 water utilities to "improve resilience in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems."

That added infusion of money is under threat now. The Trump administration's new budget proposal will call for a large increase in military spending and  slashing the budget of the EPA along with other non-defense agencies, the administration said Monday. While Congress will have the final say on the budget, the proposal sends a signal about the administration's priorities.

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