Donald Trump heads to California, again blaming fires on forest management

President Donald Trump headed to California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and said they were trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors and many others over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Before boarding Air Force One to California on Saturday morning, Trump was asked about forest management again and repeated his stance. “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing … It should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.

Those comments, and those in his Fox interview, echoed his initial reaction to the fires on 10 November when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. His words caused widespread outrage, though Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration and he has since repeatedly praised the work of first responders, including just before leaving Washington DC.

“I want to be with the firefighters and the Fema first responders,” Trump said.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president on his trip to the fire-ravaged region in the north of the state. Governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it was time “to pull together for the people of California”.

The blaze that started 8 November all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors with his comments.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection said. Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, work to contain and suppress the flames.

The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.

More than 5,500 fire personnel are still battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 sq km) and was 50% contained, officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50mph (80km/h) and low humidity. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

Officials acknowledge that the huge number of missing could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster also probably includes many people who fled the blaze and do not realize they have been reported missing.

[The Guardian]

Trump disputes federal climate report’s findings, says he hasn’t seen it

President Trump disputed a recent federal government report’s conclusion that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change, but also said he has not seen the report.

In an interview released Sunday, Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Swan of Axios asked Trump to respond to the Climate Science Special Report, a multi-agency report released last year that concluded there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for global warming of recent decades other than that the “dominant” cause is human activity, mainly via greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump said humans contribute to warming, but not to the degree described in the report, whose authors come from agencies like NASA and the Energy Department.

“I want everybody to report whatever they want. But ultimately, I’m the one that makes that final decision,” he told VandeHei and Swan. “I can also give you reports where people very much dispute that. You know, you do have scientists that very much dispute it.”

Trump also repeated his prediction, first outlined last month, that the climate will “change back” and that the current warming will reverse. He did not provide evidence for the claim.

“Is there climate change? Yeah. Will it go back like this, I mean, will it change back? Probably, that’s what I think,” he said, making a wave motion with his hand.

“We do have an impact, but I don’t believe the impact is nearly what some say, and other scientists that dispute those findings very strongly.”

Asked if Trump would order federal agencies to include the views of those who dispute the report’s findings, the president said of the report, “I haven’t seen that.”

The 2017 government report said about 92 percent of global warming is due to human activity.

The report aligns closely with the scientific consensus of recent years that humans are the overwhelming cause of climate change.

[The Hill]

Trump threatens to pull federal funds for Calif. wildfires over forest ‘mismanagement’

With major wildfires still roaring out of control in California, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blame “gross mismanagement of the forest” for the catastrophe and threatened to withhold federal funds if the issue is not remedied.

It was his first tweet on the wildfires, now among the deadliest and most destructive in California history, although he earlier issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

At least nine people have been killed and the entire town of Paradise, in northern California has been destroyed.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

His latest remarks were reminiscent of his tweets during another major outbreak of fires in California in August, when he blamed the wildfires on “bad environmental laws” and his claim that water from the north was “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

In that tweet burst, Trump also said California wildfires “are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

At the time, The New York times noted a debate over the allocation of water for irrigation or fish habitat but none regarding water purportedly being diverted into the ocean.

The Times quoted Cal Fire officials as saying there is no shortage of water for fighting fires. Helicopters collect water from lakes and ponds to douse wildfires and have plenty at hand, they said.

Asked about that the president’s tweeted claim of water diversion, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Evan Westrup, told the Times in an email, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The presidents of two professional firefighters associations have denounced President Donald Trump’s assertion that “gross mismanagement of the forests” is to blame.

California Professional Firefighters president Brian Rice called the President’s words “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” in a written statement.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the comments were “reckless and insulting.”

“Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”

The Trump tweet also prompted some harsh criticism from singer Katy Perry, a native Californian, who called his remarks “heartless.”

“This is an absolutely heartless response,” she tweeted. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend, who lives in Los Angeles, also weighed in, tweeting, “Our National Embarrassment can’t bring himself to show some empathy to Californians dealing with a horrific disaster.”

Trump’s bizarre ‘cleanest air’ argument for ignoring climate change

The White House’s release last Friday of a report detailing the expected effects of climate change didn’t exactly get buried in the way the administration may have hoped. In the days since its release, news outlets have dug into the extensive document, identifying the scale of threat posed by the warming climate and, unavoidably, noting the tension between its forecasts and the indifference of President Trump.

Both he and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders were asked about the report Monday.

Sanders, conducting her fourth daily news briefing since the end of August, was asked why Trump didn’t feel a responsibility to protect the environment.

“Well, the president’s certainly leading on what matters most in this process, and that’s on having clean air, clean water. In fact, the United States continues to be a leader on that front,” she said, later adding, “The biggest thing that we can do is focus on how to make sure we have the cleanest air, the cleanest water, and the president is certainly doing that and certainly leading on that front.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump reiterated that argument.

“You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean,” he said. “But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over.”

This appears to be the line, then: We don’t need to address climate change because we are focused on preserving our “record clean” air and water.

So let’s evaluate that.

During his interview with The Post, Trump claimed to be one of a group of people who “have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers.” On the campaign trail, Trump used to offer a different set of credentials to deny the existence of global warming: his shelf covered with awards for his environmental consciousness.

“By the way, I won so many environmental awards, shockingly. No, it’s true,” Trump said during a speech in December 2015.

It wasn’t true, it seemed. Our fact-checkers dug into the claim, finding one award given to one of his golf clubs in 2007 and another given in appreciation after he donated land to Westchester County that he was blocked from turning into a golf course.

In that speech in 2015, Trump continued to make the case for how he would focus his environmentalist energies.

“And you know what I want to do? I want really immaculate air. I want clean, crystal water,” he said. “I want a lot of things. Okay? I want a lot of things.”

That was his refrain for months. We want clean air. We want clean water. Often, the ante would be upped: We want the cleanest air. We want the cleanest water.

A month or two ago, somewhat suddenly, Trump started declaring that particular mission accomplished.

“We withdrew the United States from the job-killing, income-killing Paris climate accord. That was costing our country,” Trump said in September. “And we have the cleanest air now in the world. We have the cleanest water. Remember this. I’m an environmentalist. I want crystal-clean water. I want crystal-clean air.”

Talking about hurricanes in October, Trump said: “I live in Florida to a large extent and spend a lot of time in Florida, and we had a period of time where we went years without having any major problem. And then you have a problem and it goes in cycles, and I want absolutely crystal-clear water and I want the cleanest air on the planet and our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been.”

A month ago, there was this celebratory tweet.

As is often the case with the medium-quality infographics Trump shares on social media, this one is incorrect. It uses one metric for air cleanliness — the density of fine particulate matter in the air — and asserts that the United States’ air is the cleanest by that metric, according to the World Health Organization.

But the WHO’s data show that the United States’ air isn’t the cleanest on that metric. In North America, Canada’s air has lower levels of that size of particulates. So does the air in Estonia, Finland and Iceland in Europe. And in Brunei and Australia. On this one metric, the United States’ air is relatively clean, but it’s not the cleanest.

Trump may have been pointing to a news release from the Environmental Protection Agency this year touting the cleanliness of the air, but that report didn’t compare the United States to other countries and, ironically, showed an increase in particulates last year.

The improvements the country has experienced since the 1970s, of course, are heavily a function of the Clean Air Act, a bill that Trump not only isn’t responsible for but that his administration has worked to weaken.

There are plenty of other metrics that could be used to measure air quality — other particulates, ozone, sulfides, nitrates. But none of those is related to the looming problem of climate change, which stems largely from the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Saying that you’re addressing environmental problems by ensuring clean air while ignoring greenhouse gas emissions is like saying that you cook only healthy food, pointing at the lack of food-poisoning complaints but ignoring that your meals all contain 400 percent of the daily recommended allotments of fat and salt.

Trump’s assessment of what “environmentalism” entails is, like many other aspects of his political understanding, rooted in an archaic, pre-1990s sense of the term. The environmental challenge faced by President Richard Nixon was dense smog choking U.S. cities, like producing food laced with salmonella to continue the analogy above. Nixon oversaw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Over time, the more significant threat of climate change has become obvious — but less tangibly. That affords more political leeway to ignore the problem should one seek to do so.

Trump seeks to do so, and has a new, odd talking point he deploys to that end.

[Washington Post]

Trump: My ‘Natural Instinct for Science’ Tells Me Climate Science Is Wrong

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which encompasses the consensus finding of climate scientists worldwide, issued a report warning that the effects of climate change may become irreversible by 2040. But since this conclusion implies the need for government action of some kind, and thus threatens a core tenet of conservative movement theology, Republicans ignore or dismiss the findings. Asked by Lesley Stahl about the report, Trump accordingly dismissed it, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”

But you know who doesn’t have a big political agenda, according to Donald Trump? Donald Trump. The president of the United States styles himself as a man of science, willing to follow the facts wherever they go. In yet another of his current spate of lunatic ramblings he has decided to share with various media, this time the Associated Press, Trump was asked about the report again, and gave an even crazier response.

Trump asserted that, contrary to the scientific conclusion that pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere has caused an upward ratcheting of temperatures, he sees it as random unexplainable variation: “I agree the climate changes, but it goes back and forth, back and forth.” When the interviewer noted that scientists have concluded otherwise, Trump asserted his own scientific credentials.

“My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump,” he said. “And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

So Trump’s claim to scientific competence rests on his belief that science is a matter of instinct, and this instinct is passed on genetically, as evidenced by his uncle. Those lucky few possessed of this gift can look at two competing hypotheses and know which one is correct, without needing to study the evidence, or even having a clear understanding of what “evidence” means. Trump has luckily inherited this instinct, along with some $400 million in untaxed gifts from his father.

Now, a scientist might reply that science is not a matter of instinct at all but a body of knowledge amassed through experimentation and study. They could even design studies testing the hypothesis that individuals possess a scientific “instinct” that renders actual knowledge of scientific conclusions unnecessary. But Trump would surely just respond that those scientists have a political agenda, and his instinct, acquired via his uncle, concludes those studies are fake.

[New York Magazine]

Trump No Longer Thinks Climate Change is a Hoax, Still Not Sure It’s Manmade

During an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl on Sunday that aired on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump backed off his claim that climate change is a hoax but made it clear he was not ready to say it was indeed manmade.

“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” Trump said. “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”

At one point Stahl noted it would be remarkable if all the recent weather emergencies may change his mind.

“You know, I– I was thinking what if he said, ‘No, I’ve seen the hurricane situations, I’ve changed my mind. There really is climate change.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what an impact,’” Stahl said.

Trump replied: I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talkin’ about over millions of years. They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.”

Stahl, who suggested Trump really was denying it, then asked him to pin down when he says, “they say.”

“People say,” Trump replied, before casting doubt on scientists’ agendas.

“You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda, Lesley,” the president said.

[Mediaite]

Trump Administration Wants to Make It Easier to Release Methane Into Air

The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.

The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirementthat companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the United States’ effort to rein in global warming. In July, the E.P.A. proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation’s smokestacks.

“They’re taking them down, one by one,” said Janet McCabe, the E.P.A.’s top climate and clean-air regulator in the Obama administration.

Officials from the E.P.A., the Interior Department and the White House did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Industry groups praised the expected changes. “It’s a neat pair” of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era E.P.A. methane rule, she said, “was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field.”

Ms. Sgamma praised the Trump administration for turning the oil companies’ requests into policy, noting that the Obama administration frequently turned proposals from environmental groups into policy. “It all depends on who you trust,” she said. “That administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry.”

The regulation of methane, while not as widely discussed as emissions from cars and coal plants, was nonetheless a major component of Mr. Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. Methane makes up only about nine percent of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. About one-third of methane pollution is estimated to come from oil and gas operations.

The forthcoming proposals from the E.P.A. and Interior Department would allow far more methane to leak from oil and gas drilling operations, environmentalists say. “These leaks can pop up any time, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain,” said Matt Watson, a specialist in methane pollution with the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group. “The longer you go in between inspections, the longer leaks will go undetected and unrepaired.”

The proposals exemplify President Trump’s policy quest to roll back regulations on businesses, particularly oil, gas and coal companies. While significant aspects of the president’s broader agenda — including immigration and trade policy, and the proposed border wall with Mexico — remain mired in confusion, and as the administration struggles under the investigation into the presidential campaign’s ties with Russia, the E.P.A. and Interior Department have steadily pressed forward with rollbacks of environmental regulations.

“In other areas of policymaking, like immigration and health care, they appear to have brought into the administration ideologues who don’t know a lot about policymaking,” said Cecilia Muñoz, who directed the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration. “But in climate change and energy, they appear to have brought in people who know exactly what they’re doing, and know exactly where the levers are.”

The pace of the proposals has not been slowed by the resignation in July of Scott Pruitt, who left the top job at the E.P.A. under a cloud of ethics scandals. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who worked in the E.P.A. under the first President George Bush, is now the agency’s acting chief.

The E.P.A.’s new methane proposal, according to the draft seen by The Times, would loosen a 2016 rule that required oil and gas drillers to perform leak inspections as frequently as every six months on their drilling equipment, and to repair leaks within 30 days. The proposed amendment would lengthen that to once a year in most cases, and to as infrequently as once every two years for low-producing wells. It would also double the amount of time a company could wait before repairing a methane leak from 30 to 60 days.

It would also double the amount of time required between inspections of the equipment that traps and compresses the natural gas, from once every three months to once every six months. On the Alaskan North Slope, where oil and gas companies contend that harsh weather makes it difficult to conduct inspections, such equipment would only have to be monitored annually.

In addition, the E.P.A. proposal would let energy companies operating in states that have their own state-level methane standards follow those standards instead of the federal ones. That would include states such as Texas, where the pollution standards have been more lax than federal standards.

If implemented, the proposal would recoup nearly all the costs to the oil and gas industry that would have been imposed by the Obama-era regulation. The E.P.A. estimated that rule would have cost companies about $530 million by 2025. The E.P.A. estimates that the proposed changes would save the oil and gas industry $484 million by the same year.

[The New York Times]

Trump wrongly blames California’s worsening wildfires on water diversions

As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.

California’s environmental laws, he claimed, “aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

While decades-old state and federal forest management strategies have been cited as exacerbating California’s wildfires in recent years, experts Sunday were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame.

While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean. And the problem is not that the state lacks the water to fight fires, but that years of drought have made forests and brush more flammable.

“On the water side, it boggles the mind,” UC Merced professor and wildfire specialist LeRoy Westerling told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending. . . . Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration for the state. Nine people have been killed by the 18 wildfires currently burning across the state. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco has grown to the fifth-largest in state history, burning almost 400 square miles by Sunday. and threatening 15,000 homes. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire entered Yosemite National Park, which remained largely closed to visitors, and the Carr fire near Redding claimed its seventh life, when a PG&E lineman crashed his vehicle while working with crews to fight the blaze. Overall, more than 470,000 acres have burned in the state, with more than 14,000 firefighters on the front lines.

Trump policy shop filters facts to fit his message

President Donald Trump’s appointees in the health department have deleted positive references to Obamacare, altered a report that undermined the administration’s positions on refugees and added anti-abortion language to the strategic plan — part of an ideological overhaul of the agency’s research office.

While every administration puts its imprint on the executive branch and promotes ideas that advance its own agenda, this one has ventured several steps further — from scrubbing links to climate change studies from an Environmental Protection Agency website to canceling an Interior Department study on coal mining risks and suppressing reports on water contaminationand the dangers of formaldehyde.

Inside the Health and Human Services policy research shop, staffers say the political pressures to tailor facts to fit Trump’s message have been unprecedented.

Several pointed to embarrassments such as PolitiFact grading a lawmaker’s statement, based on the agency’s May 2017 report on Obamacare premium hikes, as “false,” and concluding the study had serious methodological problems.

Another report suggesting that millions more people would get health coverage if Obamacare were rolled back — a finding at odds with nearly every independent analysis — was widely mocked and produced over the objections of career staff at the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, known as ASPE, say several sources.

“The heartbreaking part is that ASPE is the source of the evidence and the science for how decisions are made,” said a former senior official, who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations. “It’s just another example of how we’re moving to a post-fact era.”

The office has been especially vulnerable to political pressure because its leadership remains in flux. The University of Minnesota health economist tapped to lead the office by Trump has been dogged by questions about his financial entanglements, leaving his nomination in limbo for more than a year. The acting head of ASPE was recently reassigned to a regional office, and the top deputy altered McKinsey-produced data to make it more favorable to the Trump administration, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the changes.

“I find the attack on the integrity and the culture of the office to be disturbing,” said Richard Frank, a Harvard health economist who ran ASPE as an Obama administration political appointee. “This is really a departure to an office that has a 50-year history to it.”

HHS officials vigorously disputed portrayals of the office as ideologically driven.

“I reject the premise of your question and allegation,” said spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley. “Secretary [Alex] Azar has made very clear that HHS is a science- and evidence-based organization and it will operate accordingly.”

Oakley said the 120-person office has been refocused to work on Trump administration priorities like drug pricing and the opioid epidemic. Two staffers say those topics are regarded as safer ground because they are not part of the health care culture wars. Under Azar, who assumed leadership of the agency about six months ago — after most of these incidents occurred — the office has produced a six-page research brief on drug pricing, which published this week, and two studies on the opioid epidemic. Oakley said more reports are coming.

But the group’s morale and role remain diminished, as key staff and teams have dwindled; there are just three staffers working on analyzing health coverage, down from about a dozen at the end of the Obama administration, said a staffer.

Republican health policy analyst Lanhee Chen, who served as an HHS senior counselor in the George W. Bush administration, scoffed at the notion that this policy shop is more partisan than the one that preceded it.

“I don’t believe the Trump administration ASPE has put out reports that are any less analytically or methodologically rigorous than those of the Obama administration ASPE,” Chen said. “Those who express concerns regarding the quality of reports ‘falling off’ are probably using that argument as a cover for the fact that they disagree with the findings of the reports.”

Chen said he regards the policy shop as a vehicle to advance administration policy, “so in that sense, methodological rigor has not necessarily been a metric I have used to evaluate their reports. That’s why we have studies from academics and analysts outside of government.”

This story is drawn from interviews with nine individuals with knowledge of ASPE operations, most of whom asked for confidentiality to speak freely, as well as with outside observers.

Shift in office’s focus

ASPE historically has been used to investigate the impact of HHS policies and help shape future strategy, and under the Obama administration, it focused closely on the expansion of health insurance coverage and the Affordable Care Act — issues on which Barack Obama had campaigned heavily and made central to his presidency. The office published 43 reports on the ACA’s effects on rural hospitals, women’s health and other discrete corners of health care between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, generally extolling the effects and sometimes overlooking the drawbacks.

For instance, one 2016 study on choosing health plans in the ACA market was criticized for slanting its findings.

[Politico]

Trump admin tightens media access for federal scientists

The Trump administration is directing federal scientists in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to get approval from the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, before speaking to reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times.

USGS employees interviewed by the L.A. Times said the policy is a departure from decades of past media practices that allowed scientists to quickly respond to media requests. The employees said that the new policy will significantly undermine this.

A spokesperson for Interior disputed this description of the policy to the L.A. Times, saying that “the characterization that there is any new policy or that it for some reason targets scientists is completely false.”

Deputy press secretary for the Department of the Interior, Faith Vander Voort, told the outlet that Interior had only asked the USGS public affairs office to follow 2012 media guidelines established under former President Obama.

The guidelines say Interior’s communications office must be notified ahead of some types of interviews but does not say that scientists must get approval before speaking with reporters as an internal email obtained by the L.A. Times indicates.

The employees said that they believe the new policies were established to control the voices of Interior employees. They believe the move is a part of larger efforts to quell discourse about climate change, which the agency has produced research on.

[The Hill]

1 2 3 4 5