By: Savin Mattozzi ~Staff Writer~
The first two weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency brought with it a flurry of executive orders, restraints on federal agencies and the elimination of key issues from the official White House website.
Within the scientific community, the most significant action came from the administration’s decision to halt federal funding of and all external communications within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“It’s a bit of a frustrating time to jump into an environmental scientist’s role becuase of an administration that may or may not believe in climate change,” junior environmental science major Josh Menke said. “It’s not something we can play around with for four years. We can’t keep building the Keystone Pipeline. We can’t keep drilling and taking land, and go back at the end of four years and say ‘we’ll just do a do-over’ because that’s not how that works.”
Despite concern over these decisions in the scientific community, political scientists say that they are routine for an incoming administration. Dr. Mack Mariani, the advisor for the Political Science Club and an associate professor, explained that the current reconstruction the Trump administration is undertaking is common.
“It takes a bit of time for an incoming administration to get its personnel in place throughout the agencies,” Mariani said. “Typically, things return to normal once the political appointees are in place and a chain of command established for communication and regulations to go forward as before.”
Dr. Timothy White, a political science professor, echoed the statements of Mariani but point ed out that the way the new administration is restricting agencies is a bit different.
“There are two possible interpretations for what’s going on,” White said. “One is a historical precedence at play where new people are coming into agencies and want to control the agenda, and that’s normal. Another, which I think is suggested, is that there is a new attempt to control the media and the civil service.”
The Trump administration has ongoing complications in its relationship with media, which includes interactions where White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Trump have dismissed media outlets at Press Meetings and called them “fake news.” This most notably happened to CNN when Trump declined to take questions from the media outlet.
“The administration always wants the media to put out the message it likes,” White said. “We would all like the media to say only good things and not talk about the failures, errors, mistakes, problems, controversial things you do. But I don’t think it recognizes the fundamental rights of the media to criticize this. I think Obama, despite wanting to control the message, clearly understood that the media has rights. It’s not so clear that the Trump administration sees it this way, and the only administration that was like this was Nixon’s administration.”
In response to tighter controls on information, several “rogue” social media accounts have surfaced claiming to be administered by people within the affected federal agencies.
A group calling themselves Not Alt World claims to be from the National Park Services according to the Washington Post, and has posted tweets critical of the administration’s media blackout.
The group tweeted to the Washington Post, “We are just here to push the science that is being dismantled by the current administration.”
“I do think that this administration has a more than usual desire to try to manipulate the news and tell them what to say,” White said. “Usually governments in free democracies don’t get to determine who the newspapers are. They report to everybody.”
People in the environmental science community see the current events differently than political scientists.
“If we are decimating mountains, like what’s done in mountain top removal for coal in Appalachia, if we are spilling metric tons of crude oil into water sources, these are environmental catastrophes that don’t really have any sort of way of being fixed,” Menke said, “and that’s a troubling prospect.”