The Trump Administration’s Consistent Dismissal of Science

While Scott Pruitt was busy testifying about his various ethics violations in front of Congress last week, you may have missed that the EPA made two very serious policy changes with real consequences.

First, Pruitt announced that burning biomass, like wood, would now be classified as a carbon-neutral energy source. Carbon-neutral energy sources, like water power, are encouraged by the EPA because they don’t contribute carbon emissions to the atmosphere. However, burning biomass releases significant amounts of carbon-dioxide, which contributes to the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. Pruitt argued that this new classification would “promote environmental stewardship,” supposedly citing an environmental benefit. But biomass is plainly not carbon-neutral, and classifying it as such defeats the point of this classification, and encourages bad practices that harm the environment.

Then, Pruitt announced that the EPA would no longer consider any scientific research that doesn’t release its underlying data to the public. Ostensibly, this is to improve transparency, rejecting what many industry advocates call “secret science,” but really it’s an excuse to exclude scientific research. Many peer-reviewed, academically-sound studies do not reveal baseline data to protect subjects’ privacy. This especially applies to studies on public health, which must rely on confidential patient data. Fundamentally, this new regulation is a shallow excuse to ignore research that directly assesses the health of Americans, dismissing their harmful effects while making environmental policy decisions.

These two recent decisions are not only ignorant, but also deliberately deceptive, going against scientists’ vehement criticism and instead depending on transparent justifications.

Dismissing science is not new territory for the Trump administration. In addition to the EPA’s disastrous new policies, the administration as a whole has consistently shown scorn for scientific expertise. The new NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is a climate change skeptic who is not a scientist or engineer, and Rick Perry was the first non-scientist to lead the Department of Energy in more than 10 years.

The Trump administration has disdained science and expertise even beyond the climate change denial that has become the Republican standard-bearer. But this total condemnation of science and evidence will hurt us even beyond climate change. The habits of ignoring researchers and scientists can result in a lack of urgency and insufficient policy solutions.

Is this why the Trump administration has been so slow to respond to the opioid crisis? Since President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last year, there’s been limited action from the administration to make real progress and help stem the tide of deaths. Scientists largely know what we need to do to combat the crisis: increased access to treatment medications like methadone and the overdose antidote naloxone; fewer prescriptions of painkillers; and the promotion of policies that address the root causes of addiction, including mental health. This scientific consensus is echoed in the recommendations compiled by Trump’s very own opioid commision, which emphasize streamlining federal money for drug addiction, facilitating access to treatment, and new training requirements for doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers. Yet, in the six months since these recommendations have been released, the federal government has hardly acted on them.

Instead, the administration has proposed a number of punitive measures, with Trump at one point even calling for increased use of the death penalty, These same experts emphasize that the criminal justice system has historically not been successful at dealing with drug epidemics, and that public health policies are a stronger solution to help as many Americans as possible.

Our nation faces real threats to that we will need scientists and research to answer. By ignoring them, the administration will only continue to harm Americans. The science is there — all President Trump has to do is listen.