Examples of Changes to the EPA Website that Undermine Public Access to Scientific Information

Posted on Posted in Blog

By EDGI’s Website Monitoring Team

There have been substantial changes to the EPA website during the Trump administration that negatively impact the quality of information provided to the public. Most, but not all, of the changes that EDGI has observed occurred under Administrator Pruitt, but the Wheeler administration has not replaced removed resources and has continued problematic practices that undermine public access to crucial environmental information.  

The most blatant examples of web resource changes that align with partisan political objectives and undermine public access to scientific information are the removals of several websites within EPA.gov. On April 28, 2017, the contents of several websites, including EPA’s Climate Change website; Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments website; and the Clean Power Plan website were all removed from public view. In this content removal, all webpages in EPA’s Climate Change website (www.epa.gov/climatechange) and EPA’s Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments website (www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate) forwarded to a splash page that stated “We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.” Three months later, many www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate pages began redirecting to a new domain, Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments (www.epa.gov/statelocalenergy) that notably omitted climate-related resources. Eighteen months later, www.epa.gov/climatechange pages stopped redirecting to the “updating” splash page and were fully deleted. They now register a Page Not Found error, which may indeed reflect the EPA’s priorities under President Trump and now Administrator Wheeler.

EPA has employed an interesting strategy regarding public information availability before and during public comment periods for certain proposed regulations. Along with the April 28, 2017 removal of the Climate Change website and the Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments website, EPA also removed its Clean Power Plan website (www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan) by redirecting it to a single, newly created webpage called “Energy Independence” (www.epa.gov/energy-independence) highlighting an executive order by President Trump. Notably, this occurred more than five months before the EPA formally proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan and invited public comments. With regulatory procedures stretching for more than two years, EPA has proposed to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan, all with the vast majority of EPA’s information about climate change and the Clean Power Plan removed from public view (Read EDGI’s public comment regarding the CPP repeal). In a similar fashion, on May 10, 2017, EPA removed its Clean Water Rule website (www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule) by redirecting it to a single newly created webpage called “Waters of the United States” that focused on the procedures involved in repealing and replacing the Clean Water Rule, completely omitting information about the scientific underpinnings of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. Note this occurred more than two months before the EPA published its intention to repeal the Clean Water Rule and invited public comments. For nearly two years leading up to EPA’s proposed new definition of the Waters of the United States Rule, it did not create web resources that included scientific information about the appropriateness of the proposed new or old rules and did not restore the previously available scientific content (Read EDGI’s public comment regarding the WOTUS rule). EPA has undermined the intention of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by removing scientific information such that the public is less able to authentically and informatively provide public comments on proposed regulations that affect our environment.  

In addition to these wholesale removals of valuable information, EPA has changed the language on various webpages to make content less clear, and in some cases less accurate. Examples, provided with notes in the list below, include such things as replacing the words “greenhouse gases” with “air pollutants,” and rewriting a mission statement to assert the office has goals of economically achievable standards for industry rather than standards to achieve clean water. The list included below is not exhaustive; it is a short list of changes on which EDGI has already published reports. EDGI has observed many more examples of substantive changes on webpages, and is in the process of curating that list.

For summaries of some of the changes EDGI has observed and analyzed, please see our reports on climate resources across federal agencies: The New Digital Landscape (2019), and Changing the Digital Climate (2018). Please also see our public comments for EPA proposed regulations, the Waters of the United States revised definition (2019), Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science (2018), and the Clean Power Plan repeal (2018). 

Domain Removals: 

  • Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments domain

Examples of EPA website language changes that promote partisan politics: