The Trump administration will be remembered for many disastrous moments, but one of the most consequential might be its systematic degradation of environmental protection efforts. Even without a Twitter account, Trump does not appear content to leave office quietly as he and the ghouls he appointed who currently occupy the Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Science and Technology Policy have been pushing out misinformation and propaganda that undermine the very real threat that is human-caused climate change.
The first blast of misinformed climate content came on Tuesday, when 10 "flyers" or PDF files questioning the legitimacy of climate change were published on the website of the Center for Environmental Research and Earth Sciences, a climate denial organization. While it normally wouldn't be all that noteworthy for a group that regularly pushes anti-scientific propaganda to do exactly that, at least two of the so-called flyers bore the seal of the Executive Office of the President and stated they were copyrighted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), according to the Washington Post. The papers, which have since been removed, reportedly claimed that believing humans cause climate change "involves a large measure of faith” and that computer models are “too small and slow” to accurately produce climate simulations.
The papers were reportedly produced by David Legates, a long-time climate skeptic and professor of climatology at the University of Delaware. Despite his long-standing doubts about the scientific consensus that humans cause climate change, last year Legates was placed in one of the top roles at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the government agencies at the forefront of tracking and combating climate change. By publishing the papers with the government seal adorned to them, Legates appeared to be trying to give legitimacy to his discredited theories in an attempt to muddy the waters for future conversations about climate change.
Legates and Ryan Maue, a senior official at the OSTP, were attributed with distributing the posters. The OSTP's director did not sign off on their production or publication, and both Legates and Ryan were re-assigned, but not fired, over the ordeal, according to the New York Times.
As if that weren't enough, Wednesday brought even more anti-environmental chicanery, though this time it was administration-approved. In what has been billed as a surprise move, the EPA finalized a rule that restricts greenhouse gas emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. The move is a bit technical, in that it limits the ability to apply pollution standards to industries whose emissions account for more than three percent of the country's total greenhouse gas output. In effect, that will keep future administrations from being able to apply the Clean Air Act's rules to oil and gas producers who, under the EPA's new math, produce a "necessarily insignificant" amount of emissions. Basically just power plants would be subject to these regulations, under the EPA's latest guidance.
The ruling amounts to Trump's EPA, run by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, tossing the fossil fuel industry one last bone before leaving office. But what makes it particularly egregious is the fact that, per Politico, the EPA never bothered to seek public comment on the proposal, nor did it provide public notice of the decision. Typically, those actions are required before a rule goes into effect, but the Trump administration is running out of time and certainly hasn't been afraid to flout the rules in the past.
Trump and his cronies have been trying to push through as many disastrous environmental policies as possible in their final months in office, including attempting (largely unsuccessfully) to sell off parts of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, so the flyers and sudden EPA rule changes shouldn't come as a surprise. But with the recent news that 2020 was tied for the hottest year on record and the US experiencing near-record levels of damage caused by climate-related disasters in the last 12 months, the moves feel particularly heinous.