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Climate Silence and the Trump Administration’s Censorship of Federal Environmental Agency Websites

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: For media inquiries, please contact EDGI communications coordinator Shannan Lenke Stoll, ShannanStoll.edgi@gmail.com

Climate Silence and the Trump Administration’s Censorship of Federal Environmental Agency Websites
EDGI illustrates the impacts of the unprecedented steps the Trump administration took to manipulate information about environmental issues and laws

A new paper by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) summarizes how the Trump administration took unprecedented steps to censor climate change-related information—including by limiting access to websites about its causes and actions that mitigate it, as well as by changing the language used to refer to it. 

While the industry-led climate denial movement has long sowed doubt about climate change and what it will take to curb it, such tactics echoed within federal agencies during the Trump administration. EDGI’s new paper published in PLoS One, Visualizing Changes to US Federal Environmental Agency Websites, 2016–2020, is the first peer-reviewed paper to quantify and visualize the effects of these tactics. 

The paper is also the third and final release by EDGI’s website monitoring team in a series that summarizes four years of work identifying and documenting significant changes to federal websites, and analyzing their impact on public engagement with the environmental rule-making process. These three releases are intended to provide tools for additional reporting and analysis, as well as policy recommendations for better web governance. 

In Visualizing Changes, EDGI reviewed thousands of pages from agencies including the EPA, NASA, and NOAA, and found that the use of the term “climate change” decreased almost 40% between 2016 and 2020. Other findings include:

  • Coded language such as “resilience” and “sustainability” that stood for “climate”;
  • changes that occurred more frequently and to a larger degree on pages of Cabinet-level agencies with a more direct connection to the White House; and
  • changes that occurred more on higher-visibility web pages that the public would be more likely to encounter.

Learn about all three recent EDGI web monitoring releases:

  1. Federal Environmental Web Tracker 
  2. Access Denied: Federal Web Governance Under the Trump Administration
  3. Visualizing Changes to US Federal Environmental Agency Websites, 2016–2020

Authors of the Visualizing Changes paper and the Access Denied report, as well as creators of the Web Tracker tool, are available for interviews, background, and to answer journalist, researcher, and community questions. 

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The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) analyzes federal environmental data, websites, institutions, and policy. We seek to improve environmental data stewardship and to promote environmental health and environmental justice.