Media Blackout Ordered For EPA Employees During Trump Transition
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
An interesting episode played out on Twitter yesterday. So the official account for Badlands National Park in North Dakota started tweeting some scientific findings about climate change amongst its normal tweets about bighorn sheep and bison. Now, hours later, the tweets were deleted, and there was an uproar.
The National Park Service told several news agencies that a former employee wrote these tweets - it was not the park itself - and that that's why they were deleted. But many people were not buying that. The Democratic National Committee's press secretary said in a statement, quote, "Vladimir Putin would be proud." NPR's Nathan Rott is here at NPR West in the studio with me. He's been following this. And, Nate, good morning.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what's the whole fuss here?
ROTT: Well, I think the attention that this is getting is representative of a bigger fight that's starting to take shape between the Trump administration and I'd say career government workers, scientists and outside groups that are worried about the administration's emerging environmental priorities especially when it comes to climate change. This should come as no surprise to listeners or anybody that's been following the Trump administration and his views on climate change. Trump said during the campaign that climate change is a hoax, and he's promised to peel back many environmental regulations in the U.S. But there is a growing concern in the scientific community that climate research is going to be cut or buried during the next four years.
GREENE: All right, that's the whole context. Let's talk about this specific situation. I mean, there were these reports that staff at the EPA were actually put on a temporary media blackout, told not to tweet, not to do anything. I mean, have you looked into that?
ROTT: Yeah, I talked to the new administration's communications director for the EPA's transition team last night, and he said that they have done that. They've instructed EPA staff not to post on social media, to speak to the media, any of that. The reason being that they want to limit outward communication until they get their ducks in a row so to speak. They don't want to say anything that's out of line. They want to get a consistent message across the agency and its 10 regions. The guy that I talked to said that's very consistent with what other transition teams have done, and that's true. Every incoming administration tries to get its agencies on message, but there are some people that think this is different.
I talked to Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, he's a former State Department employee, and here's what he said.
SENIOR FELLOW ANDREW LIGHT: In particular it's noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment or climate change, and that seems unique and targeted in this case and unprecedented.
ROTT: He's talking about the EPA, of course, but he's also talking about directives at the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture that limit outward communications as well.
GREENE: And we should remember there was that whole kerfuffle over the transition team asking for the names of people who were involved in climate change research that the Trump team eventually took back and said we weren't actually doing that or shouldn't have done that.
ROTT: And which the agencies said they weren't going to go along with.
GREENE: Going to cooperate with. So what is - I mean, you cover this stuff, Nate, what is the focus of the Trump administration when it comes to the environment? What should we expect?
ROTT: Well, I asked that same question to the guy I talked to last night, the communications director for the EPA transition team because I thought it'd be great to hear from himself. His name is Doug Ericksen, and this is what he had to say.
DOUG ERICKSEN: The focus of the EPA is going to be its core mission, which is to protect the environment and to protect human health.
ROTT: And is - climate change fall anywhere into that?
ERICKSEN: Well, we'll be working on many issues within the EPA, so - but we'll be sticking to the core mission, which is protecting the environment and protecting human health.
GREENE: Little bit of a pause there.
ROTT: Yeah. So I asked him several times, I pushed him on this. Does climate change - is it something you guys are going to be looking at? Is it something you're going to be dealing with? And he'd really didn't address it, you know, and that's fairly consistent with what we've heard at the confirmation hearings from some of the nominees. They're not taking the same line as Trump. They're not saying that climate change is a hoax. They're saying it is a thing and that humans do have some impact on it, but there's really been no talk about what the government should do about that, if anything, and especially in terms of policy.
GREENE: OK. We should say Donald Trump said that, but has said a lot of other different things, trying to figure out exactly what his views are on climate change. That is NPR's Nathan Rott with me here in the studios in NPR West. Nate, thanks.
ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.