President Trump's disbelief that climate change is real seems to dictate many of his environmental policies. In the last couple of months, we've seen him pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord and roll back efforts to curb climate change, such as the Clean Power Plan, cementing the impression that this administration hasn't exactly been environmentally-friendly.
But the Trump administration took things up a notch this week in terms of rolling back environmental policies. There were reports that staffers at a federal agency were instructed to stop using the phrase "climate change," protections for the endangered greater sage grouse were relaxed, and scientists feared the Trump administration would suppress a report outlining how climate change is already impacting the United States.
Let's take a look at everything that's happened so far this week.
Relaxed protections on the greater sage grouse to favor mining and petroleum companies
The greater sage grouse population, a Western bird species known for its complex (and funny) mating dance, has declined drastically in recent years. In 2015, the Obama administration drafted an elaborate conservation plan to help slow down its loss of habitat. But some companies and states (including Utah and Idaho) said the plan would interfere with economic development in the area. The plan was implemented anyway, with then-Interior Director Sally Jewell calling it as a "truly historic moment."
But in June, the Trump administration's Interior director, Ryan Zinke, ordered a task force to review the plan to "protect sage grouse and its habitat while also ensuring conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities."
The task force released its recommendations this week, which include relaxing rules around mineral leasing areas and incrementing the level of flexibility in grazing management. But environmental advocacy groups protested the rollback, saying it favors oil and gas development at the expense of protecting the sage grouse's habitat.
"Wholesale changes to the plans are not necessary and could derail years of hard work," National Wildlife Federation President Collin O'Mara said in a statement. "We cannot fall victim to the false dichotomy that pits wildlife conservation against the administration's energy development goals."
Department of Agriculture staffers are told to avoid using the term "climate change"
Employees at the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which oversees farmers’ land conservation, were instructed to stop using the term "climate change" and substitute it with "weather extremes."
Emails obtained by The Guardian show Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, sent a list of terms that the NRCS staff should avoid and which terms to use instead. Besides avoiding the use of "climate change," employees were also instructed to swap "climate change adaption" with "resilience to weather extremes."
Scientific terms used when describing human-driven climate change were also targeted by the department. Staffers were instructed to replace "reduce greenhouse gases" with "build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency" and avoid "sequester carbon" in favor of "build soil organic matter."
Scientists fear the Trump administration will censor climate change reports
"There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate," reads the report, which cites thousands of peer-reviewed studies. "Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans."
Scientists told The New York Times some were afraid the Trump administration could alter or censor the report. It's unclear whether President Trump will accept the results and take them into account when enacting new environmental policies.