Emails show Trump official consulting with climate change deniers to challenge scientific findings

A Trump administration official consulted with advisers to a think tank skeptical of climate change to help challenge widely accepted scientific findings about global warming, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.

William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, made the request to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute this March.

Happer and Heartland Institute adviser Hal Doiron discussed Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership” in a March 3 email exchange.

Happer also said he had discussed the work with another Heartland Institute adviser, Thomas Wysmuller, according to the emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The National Security Council declined to comment on the emails. 

Jim Lakely, interim president of Heartland Institute, told The Hill that the government’s stances on climate change are not above question.

“As for Wysmuller and Doiron, they are unpaid policy advisors and friends of The Heartland Institute and have known Dr. Happer for many years,” he said.

“It would be hard to find a group of men with more qualifications or experience to criticize NASA’s alarmist public statements on the climate than Happer, Doiron, and Wysmuller.”

The Trump administration is reportedly considering creating a new panel headed by Happer to the question the broad scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity and is potentially dangerous.

Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns over the proposed panel, saying it would fly in the face of scientific evidence.

Happer is a well-known climate change skeptic, having argued that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.”

[The Hill]

White House blocked State official’s written testimony over climate references

White House officials blocked a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony warning Congress that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic,” The Washington Post reported Friday.

The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research prepared testimony for the House Intelligence Committee and declined to take out the document’s mentions of scientific data on climate change.

Rod Schoonover, who works in the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues, was prepared to present his testimony in person during a Wednesday hearing, the newspaper reported.

Officials from the White House’s Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, and National Security Council all raised objections to his remarks, the Post reported.

They wished to cut several pages because the descriptions on climate science did not match the Trump administration’s official stance, according to senior administration officials who spoke with the newspaper on the condition of anonymity.

Schoonover, a former professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University, was given permission to appear before the House panel but was not allowed to submit his office’s statement for the record. He ultimately did not submit his testimony to the committee, an aide said.

White House officials reportedly objected to the document’s scientific citations, which refer to work conducted by federal agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

One Trump official said it did not “jibe” with the Trump White House’s goals on climate change, a source told the Post.

The president has long cast doubt on the existence and effects of climate change, previously suggesting that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese.

He pulled the U.S. out of the international Paris climate accord in 2017 and downplayed a U.S. government report on the environment.

Just this week, Trump said he dismissed Prince Charles’s concerns about the negative impact on climate change and insisted that weather “changes both ways.”

“Don’t forget: It used to be called ‘global warming.’ That wasn’t working. Then it was called ‘climate change.’ Now it’s actually called ‘extreme weather’ because with extreme weather you can’t miss,” Trump told British commentator Piers Morgan.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s 12-page prepared testimony, reviewed by The Washington Post, detailed how rising greenhouse gas emissions raise global temperatures and acidify oceans.

“Climate-linked events are disruptive to humans and societies when they harm people directly or substantially weaken the social, political, economic, environmental, or infrastructure systems that support people,” the statement reads, noting that while some populations may benefit from climate change. “The balance of documented evidence to date suggests that net negative effects will overwhelm the positive benefits from climate change for most of the world, however.”

[The Hill]

Trump, pressed on the environment in U.K. visit, says climate change goes ‘both ways’

His eldest daughter, Ivanka, could not change his mind.

His former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, could not change his mind.

Scores of international scientists could not change his mind.

And now, President Trump, who has called global warming a “Chinese hoax” and pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, appears similarly unmoved by an appeal from British royalty.

The president left a 90-minute meeting this week with Charles, Prince of Wales, unconvinced that the climate is warming, which it is, according to overwhelming scientific consensus. The Earth’s average surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth-highest since 1880, when record-keeping began. That means that the past five years have been the warmest in recorded history.

But the president has other beliefs.

“I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain” that aired Wednesday morning. “Don’t forget it used to be called global warming. That wasn’t working. Then it was called climate change. Now it’s actually called extreme weather, because with extreme weather, you can’t miss.”

Trump cited severe conditions from long ago as evidence for his views, even though scientists say extreme events are becoming more common, driven by climate change. 

“Forty years ago, we had the worst tornado binge we’ve ever had,” Trump said. “In the 1890s, we had our worst hurricanes.”

He said he was impressed by the passion displayed by the Prince of Wales, who has been an outspoken advocate on climate issues. The two were supposed to meet for 15 minutes, Trump said, but ended up speaking for an hour and a half. He said he shared the prince’s desire for a “good climate as opposed to a disaster.” 

But the president blamed China, India and Russia for polluting the environment and said the United States was responsible for “among the cleanest climates.”

Carbon dioxide emissions by the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter, rose an estimated 3.4 percent in 2018, according to findings published in January by the independent economic research firm Rhodium Group. And as the White House gears up to counter the consensus on climate change, it has tapped William Happer, a National Security Council senior director, to lead the effort. Happer once said, “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

In the interview with Morgan in the Churchill War Rooms, Trump also weighed in on his administration’s standoff with Iran, saying he would prefer not to take military action while maintaining, “There’s always a chance.” He said he understood the “terrible responsibility” that comes with access to the country’s nuclear arsenal. 

He also said he wanted to look into the issue of suppressors that muffle the sound of gunfire, one of which was used in the shooting that left 12 people dead last week in Virginia Beach. ADVERTISING

“What’s happening is crazy,” Trump said of the scourge of gun violence. Yet he also pointed to knife crime in Britain and 2015 attacks at the Bataclan theater in Paris — carried out by Islamic State-inspired gunmen, whom Trump termed a “wacky group of people” — in an apparent suggestion that brutality was not a uniquely American phenomenon. Morgan replied, “More people were shot dead in America last week than died from guns in Paris since the Second World War.”

So, too, Trump discussed several personal feuds. Morgan, the “Good Morning Britain” host and former champion of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” told Trump he thought his continued attacks on John McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona, were “beneath” him. 

“No, I don’t attack him,” Trump said. “People ask me, like you’re asking me. I didn’t bring his name up; you did.” Of the directive to obscure the USS John S. McCain warship while Trump was visiting Japan, the president said he bore no responsibility for it, adding, “I’m not even sure it happened.” 

He also blamed the media for stoking conflict between him and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. When he said he had not realized she had been “nasty” toward him, he was not labeling her “nasty,” he asserted, instead only observing that she had criticized him. In fact, when asked about Meghan Markle’s criticism of him before the 2016 election, he told the Sun newspaper, “I didn’t know that she was nasty.”

Trump remarked to Morgan: “Hey, join the crowd, right?” He said of the American member of the British royal family, “I hope she enjoys her life.”

As for himself, Trump said being hosted in Britain, including for a lavish state banquet in Buckingham Palace, was among the highlights of his life.

As the interview was airing Wednesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to play down protests that brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of London, suggesting falsely that the crowds had gathered in support of him. 

[Washington Post]

Media

US Department of Energy is now referring to fossil fuels as “freedom gas”

Call it a rebranding of “energy dominance.”

In a press release published on Tuesday, two Department of Energy officials used the terms “freedom gas” and “molecules of US freedom” to replace your average, everyday term “natural gas.”

Rick Perry says carbon dioxide is not a primary driver of climate changeThe press release was fairly standard, announcing the expansion of a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Freeport facility on Quintana Island, Texas. It would have gone unnoticed had an E&E News reporter not noted the unique metonymy “molecules of US freedom.”

The press release was fairly standard, announcing the expansion of a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Freeport facility on Quintana Island, Texas. It would have gone unnoticed had an E&E News reporter not noted the unique metonymy “molecules of US freedom.”

DOE Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg is quoted as saying, “With the US in another year of record-setting natural gas production, I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of US freedom to be exported to the world.”

Also in the press release, US Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes refers to natural gas as “freedom gas” in his quote: “Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”

Slate notes that the term “freedom gas” seems to have originated from an event with DOE Secretary Rick Perry. Earlier this year, the secretary signed an order to double the amount of LNG exports to Europe, saying, “The United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent. And rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas.”

A reporter at the order signing jokingly asked whether the LNG shipments should be called “freedom gas,” and Perry said, “I think you may be correct in your observation.”

If the DOE is still running with the term as a joke, then the wit in the Energy Secretary’s office is bone dry. Ars contacted the DOE to see if “freedom gas” and “molecules of US freedom” are now going to be standard in department communication with the public. We are also curious if any potential drop in LNG exports could result in patriotism bloat. The DOE has not responded, though we’ll update the story if it does.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan were the top importers of freedom gas last year. China, India, and the UK buy a smaller number of molecules of US freedom.

Trump promises return to steam-powered catapult system on aircraft carriers

Speaking aboard a U.S. Navy ship in Japan on Monday, President Donald Trump polled the sailors in the audience, “Steam or electric?”

“Steam!” a majority of the crowd yelled back — the correct answer to the question, according to the president.

“He works for the enemy,” Trump said, pointing to the individual who cheered for “electric” as the sailors on the USS Wasp laughed.

The question “steam or electric” refers to the type of catapult system used on Navy ships to propel aircraft from the ship’s deck into the sky. For decades, U.S. aircraft carriers have used steam-powered catapults, but the Navy’s newest USS Gerald R. Ford carrier uses a cutting edge electromagnetic system that promises to reduce strain on aircraft (lengthening its lifespan), require less manpower to operate, and improve reliability.

However, the new technology came at a high initial cost to taxpayers, and the program has experienced growing pains. A January report from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation highlighted the Ford’s “poor or unknown reliability of systems critical for flight operations,” including the electromagnetic catapult.

Despite the early hiccups, top Pentagon officials have defended the switch. But that hasn’t stopped the president from becoming the program’s biggest critic and advocating for a return to steam in future carriers.

“Steam’s only worked for about 65 years perfectly. And I won’t tell you this because it’s before my time by a little bit, but they have a $900 million cost overrun on this crazy electric catapult. They want to show — next, next, next. And we all want innovation, but it’s too much,” Trump told the sailors on Monday.

“I’m going to just put out an order. We’re going to use steam,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he said he wanted a change. In a May 2017 interview with Time, the president called for steam because “the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money, and it’s no good.”

A U.S. official told ABC News on Tuesday that the Navy has not received an official order to use the steam system in its next two recently authorized carriers.

The issue also came up as the president met with service members last Thanksgiving. Trump asked the commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan — which uses the steam catapult system — about the “difficulties” of the electromagnetic system on the Ford.

“All of our Nimitz supercarriers have been using steam for decades, and we find it pretty reliable,” said Capt. Pat Hannifn. “However, the electromagnetic catapults they’re running there offer some great benefits, too. Obviously, like any new piece, you got to work through the bugs. But they offer some benefits not only to stress and strain on the aircraft, to extend service life and other pieces. I have no doubt we’ll work through that just as we work through all of our other advancements and continue to bring it to the enemy when called to do so.”

When Trump asked which system he would choose, Hannifin replied, “I would go, sir, Mr. President, I would go electromagnetic cast. I think that’s the way to go.”

[ABC News]

Trump administration bans CDC from saying ‘diversity,’ transgender,’ ‘fetus,’ and more

The Trump administration has banned seven words from the Centers for Disease Control’s upcoming budget documents, the Washington Post reports. The words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

CDC analysts were not given a reason for the banned words, they were simply informed of the new policy. Some phrases can be replaced or retooled, like by saying “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” – an actual alternate phrase offered to CDC analysts in the first briefing about these words.

But not all the words are as easy to work around. It’s no secret that the current administration is anti-abortion and pushing back significantly in the fight for trans rights. Banning these words from CDC documentation directly affects communication around HIV/AIDS and the Zika virus, among others. 

This isn’t the first attempt to curb the use of language that threatens the Trump administration’s regressive policies. In March, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from two surveys of elderly people. The department also archived a webpage containing resources for LGBTQ+ people and their families.

On a more fundamental level, this aligns directly with the Trump administration’s mistrust of words and facts, and its tendency to dismiss whichever words and facts conflict with the administration’s views and messaging. The inclusion of “diversity,” “entitlement,” and “vulnerable” in the new list reflects this directly; it erases the words from relevant discourse and by extension threatens to sweep larger problems under the rug. 

Matt Lloyd, an HHS spokesperson, said that the department “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions.”

[Mashable]

USDA farms out economists whose work challenges Trump policies

The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies.

Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families.

On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut.

But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington.

The current and former employees, all of whom requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, say the specialties of those who are being asked to move corresponds closely to the areas where economic assessments often clash with the president’s policies, including tax policies, climate change, and the farm economy. The list, shared exclusively with POLITICO, shows a clear emphasis was placed on keeping employees whose work covers relatively non-controversial issues like crop planting over those whose research focused on areas sensitive to the administration.

“This was a clear politicization of the agency many of us loved for its non-partisan research and analysis,” a current ERS employee told POLITICO, claiming that department leaders picked those whose work was more likely to offend the administration and forced them to move “out or quit.”

A former researcher who left last month in anticipation of being moved put it this way: “You can draw the conclusion that these are the less valued activities that are undertaken by ERS. They view ERS as being useful in that it produces data and statistics that can inform policy but the research that’s done by the economists and geographers and statisticians at ERS is less valuable and that they’re not concerned with a significant deterioration in ERS’ ability to do research.”

A USDA spokesman declined to directly address the employees’ allegation of political bias, but provided a written statement from Perdue saying that the moves were not prompted by the work being done by ERS

“None of this reflects on the jobs being done by our . . . employees, and in fact, I frequently tell my Cabinet colleagues that USDA has the best workforce in the federal government,” Perdue said. “These changes are more steps down the path to better service to our customers, and will help us fulfill our informal motto to ‘Do right and feed everyone. . .”

“We don’t undertake these relocations lightly, and we are doing it to improve performance and the services these agencies provide. We will be placing important USDA resources closer to many stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from Washington, D.C. We will be saving money for the taxpayers and improving our ability to retain more employees in the long run. And we are increasing the probability of attracting highly-qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from land-grant universities.”

But employees claim the department’s leadership, including Perdue, turned against the research service after an estimate early last year suggested that the Republican-backed tax plan would largely benefit the wealthiest farmers.

Perdue’s decision to move ERS came several months after news outlets highlighted the USDA study on the Republican tax changes. In response to Perdue’s move, cities from all over the country submitted bids to host the ERS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which will also move. The finalists, announced May 3, were the greater Kansas City area, North Carolina‘s Research Triangle Park and multiple locations in Indiana.

Accompanying his announcement of a final selection, which is expected as early as this week, Perdue has promised to provide Congress with a cost-benefit analysis detailing why USDA says the move makes financial sense.

The impending announcement comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to stop the move. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider a spending bill that includes a provision barring the Agriculture Department from moving the two agencies out of the national capital zone. It also would block Perdue’s decision to put ERS under the control of USDA’s chief economist, a move that placed oversight of the agency closer to the secretary’s office.

Employees said that moving nearly all researchers out of Washington would have a clear impact on the agency’s work. Researchers said they usually draw on information from other USDA divisions, members of Congress and Washington-based stakeholder groups, which would be more difficult from a remote location. Allowing 76 members of the agency to stay in Washington while the other left also impacts morale, they said, and limits collaboration.

Among the employees staying in Washington are senior analysts who conduct global market and crop-outlook estimates and administrative personnel. According to the list, approximately 49 percent of agricultural economists will be allowed to remain in Washington, compared with 14 percent of researchers.

Rumors had been swirling among staff for months about who would be allowed to remain in Washington when all ERS employees were called into an auditorium in March to be briefed by Acting Administrator Chris Hartley. He then read aloud the names of those who qualified to stay. But it wasn’t until employees compiled a full roster of who was staying and going that they got a clear picture of how the agency would be split up.

Decisions on who would stay in Washington were made by ERS leadership and approved by Perdue, according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document distributed at the March meeting. The FAQ states that “every ERS employee had the ability to provide input” on the move. Senior managers “proposed critical ERS functions” that they believed needed to remain in Washington.

Some employees said that description of the decision-making process validates their concerns that Perdue was behind the move.

“They went in and handpicked who they wanted and called them ‘critical,’” said a current ERS employee.

Neil Conklin, a former senior administrator at ERS under the George W. Bush administration, said the agency stands to be fundamentally changed by the relocation.

“This is going to be very destructive of the agency, as certainly as we’ve known it,” Conklin said.

[Politico]

U.S. refrains from signing new UN pact to cut down global plastic waste

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that hasn’t signed an amendment to the United Nations’ Basel Convention that aims to cut down on global plastic waste, the AP reports.

Why it matters: Plastic bags, bottles and other wastes are causing widespread harm to marine and coastal ecosystems. These wastes kill massive numbers of marine animals and degrade their environment while entering the food chain. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has estimated that the ocean “could have more plastic than fish by weight” by the middle of this century.

The bottom line: Signatory countries to the Basel Convention’s new framework about plastic waste will have to figure out their own methods for limiting the pollution, according to Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program. The new stipulations say signatory governments will aim to “make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated.”

The other side: The UN can only enforce this pact against signatories, despite the Basel Convention being bound in international law, so the U.S. is unlikely to see any direct consequences from not signing the new framework.

[Axios]

Reality

Our plastic waste gets washed up on every beach, even the most remote islands are covered in it. And plastic won’t biodegrade for thousands of years.

Trump: We’re ‘looking into’ banning of right-wing commentators on social media

President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that his administration is “looking into” the banning of right-wing media personalities from prominent social media platforms — following a purge by Facebook of accounts belonging to several controversial political figures.

The president lamented the apparent suspension of actor and Trump supporter James Woods’ Twitter account, as well as the shuttering of Infowars contributor Paul Joseph Watson’s Facebook profile this week.

“So surprised to see Conservative thinkers like James Woods banned from Twitter, and Paul Watson banned from Facebook!” Trump tweeted.

Infowars chief Alex Jones, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and activist Laura Loomer were among the other incendiary characters bootedThursday from Facebook and its 

Trump and Republican members of Congress have long railed against Silicon Valley for what they claim is a perceived bias at the world’s largest tech firms against conservative viewpoints.

“The wonderful Diamond and Silk have been treated so horribly by Facebook,” the president wrote online, referring to the pro-Trump video-bloggers who have repeatedly claimed that the company is unfairly silencing them.

“They work so hard and what has been done to them is very sad – and we’re looking into,” Trump tweeted of the sisters, whose real names are Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson.

“It’s getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sued Twitter and three of its users in March, alleging that he was defamed and that the social media juggernaut selectively enforces its terms of service to benefit opponents of the Republican Party.

Trump last Tuesday met with with Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and CEO, in the Oval Office — hours after the president complained online about his treatment on the platform.

“No wonder Congress wants to get involved – and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!” Trump tweeted.

[Politico]

Trump claimed wind turbines cause cancer

President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his latest wild attack on wind turbines, an energy source that has long attracted his ire.

“They say the noise causes cancer,” the president said of the turbines at the National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser in Washington, DC.

Trump linked the technology to his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, saying she “wanted to put up wind.”

“If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, OK?” Trump said, imitating the whirring noise made by the turbines.

He went on to express concern for the effect of turbines on wild-bird populations.

“The thing makes so much noise, and, of course, it’s like a graveyard for birds. If you loved birds, you’d never want to walk under a windmill again,” Trump said.

Scientists have long rejected the decades-old claims of those who say that wind turbines cause a variety of illnesses, including cancer.

Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney in Australia, in a 2012 article reviewed stories of people who had illnesses they blamed on turbines.

He suggested that the illnesses — which were real — were not attributable to the turbines but instead were “psychogenic,” which means they were caused by anxiety and unrest.

It is true that many birds are killed by flying into wind turbines. However, far more are killed by flying into cellphone and radio towers, or by being mauled to death by cats.

In February, Trump lost a long-running legal battle with the Scottish government over a wind farm near one of his golf courses.

Before the 2016 US presidential election, he launched the battle over an offshore farm near his golf course in Aberdeenshire in northwest Scotland. He lost and had to pay legal bills for himself and the Scottish government.

Last week, Trump attacked wind power at a rally in Michigan, saying that if the wind doesn’t blow, televisions and other electronic devices will lose power.

In fact, turbines can store the energy to be used in times of calm.

[Business Insider]

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