Photo from NBC News
Photo from NBC News

Environmental Gag Order

February 22, 2017

On Tuesday, January 24, President Donald Trump issued an unofficial gag order on two scientific governmental branches: the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. He instructed employees of both groups not to post on social media or hold press conferences discussing any of their findings. Originally, the EPA was also told to take down pre-existing pages on their official website, but that order was retracted soon after.

If this gag order does turn into something bigger, the U.S. would not be the first country to legalize such restrictions. In 2011, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, placed regulations on what and how scientists could communicate with the media and the public. All journalists had to go through dozens of barriers between them and scientists to get accurate information. The Prime Minister originally wanted to harvest profit and an “energy superpower” status from Canada’s rich Athabasca oil sands, but dropping global oil prices caused the value of the Canadian dollar to plummet. This resulted in harsh reductions of environmental research and preservation groups.

The Harper administration denied any accusations that they were muzzling the flow of information, but scientists had detailed records of times when the government halted reporters. After journalists approached researchers for an interview, experts would have to contact a media control center that dealt with the inquiries, where they would then modify the situation for a political gain. Scientists knew that they were not to talk directly to the press if they wanted to keep their jobs. Then, the control center would ask for written questions from reporters and get written responses from the scientists. They would then decide if they wanted to directly give the responses to the media or alter the answers. This could take any amount of time, and sometimes the control center decided to simply stall the journalists until their deadlines were up so they didn’t have to respond.

“It’s a cheat for the taxpaying public because it’s the taxpaying public that is funding this government research. When that research leads to very positive things, or even if it’s negative, the people that paid for it deserve to hear about it,” said shark scientist Steven Campana, who worked with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans for 32 years.

After the election in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revoked the gag order and gave autonomy back to scientists. Now, in 2017, the same thing is occurring here in America.

This decision is not to be underestimated, as it could affect each and every person who claims residence in the U.S. Trump has a record of picking and choosing which pieces of information he wants to believe, and he makes decisions for our country based off of these conclusions. Silencing the EPA seems to be one of those decisions.

Given that President Trump has not professed a definite belief in the existence of climate change, and the EPA releases information that shows global warming, “it feels like ‘I don’t like this, so I’m going to take my toys and go.’ And I feel like it’s a very child-like behavior,” said biology and anatomy teacher Shannon Adams. She went on to say that “it seems a bit asinine. I would never begin to question how he makes a decision regarding acquisition or dissolution of property from a business standpoint because I don’t know anything about his acquisition or dissolution of property. He thinks it’s okay to make decisions about research, data, and methodology, in my opinion, that he has absolutely no background in.”

If this gag order were to become a legislation, it would be unconstitutional and go against the Freedom of Information Act, which states that every citizen has the right to access records and information from federal bureaus.

Dr. Mike Murray, an agricultural biochemist, believes that this could affect our nation in a large way. When asked if he thought that this decision would reduce scientific advancement in the U.S., he answered by saying, “If it gets to the point where they’re actually cutting funding, then it will, and there seems to be some indication that that is a long-term interest, so yeah, that will definitely have an effect. And if it gets to the point where people are afraid to publish their results for fear that there are going to be adverse consequences from their university or their state, then I think that is definitely going to set things back,” he said.

Adams reiterated her concerns for our country when she said, “But I think we’ve got bigger issues if something like blocking accurate information from federal websites [is accepted]. I think we start looking at some governmental issues that are very scary for us as a nation, that are significantly bigger than science….and so for me, it’s a much bigger issue than a gag order on the EPA. Is this what it’s going to be like for the next four years?”

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