Clean water and air, reliable weather forecasts and an environment healthy enough to promote business don’t come together by accident. They all depend on science playing a key part in public policymaking. But as the New York Times chronicled this week, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal decision-making. It’s a loss to the nation across the board - in public health, safety and economic growth - and especially risky to a populated, coastal state like Florida where science should serve as a robust first line of defense.
Trump’s disdain for science may have been best epitomized by his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a global accord aimed at reducing the emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases. But the administration has taken a range of other actions to limit the role science plays in the policymaking process, to marginalize the influence of researchers and to reduce the government’s technical capacity by chasing away an experienced workforce.
As the Times reported, the administration pared back environmental oversight in response to complaints from energy producers, manufacturers and other industry giants who said the regulations hurt their businesses. The White House ordered federal agencies to cut the number of advisory boards that provide scientific input to the government. The goal was to give the administration greater discretion in easing regulations under the guise of eliminating wasteful government spending. While political appointees in previous administrations have overruled career employees, experts said the Trump administration has expanded that practice, with many top government positions occupied by former lobbyists who represented the very industries they now oversee. And the message hasn’t been lost on career personnel; hundreds of federal scientists are departing, and at the Environmental Protection Agency, staffing has fallen to its lowest levels in at least a decade, the Times reports. That loss of expertise and institutional history combined with hiring freezes can set back research for years, if not decades.
The reductions in programs and personnel have led to the loss, delay or disruption of a broad range of scientific studies, covering topics from dairy farming and pesticide use to habitat loss, wildfire management and the economic impacts of natural disasters. This year, the EPA ended its funding for a joint project that sponsored 13 children’s health centers nationwide, which have explored how the complex interplay of genetics, environmental pollution and other factors have affected children’s health from preconception to young adulthood.
This downgrading of science is especially threatening to Florida, given its size, its large elderly population, the fragile coastal environment, its agricultural and tourist economies and the vulnerability of millions to major storms and hurricanes. The state learned the hard way the value of science after the 2010 BP oil spill, and again this past decade with the toxic algae blooms that erupted along both coasts. Short-changing science has costs, and Florida’s political leaders should be unwavering in making that case in Washington, D.C.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news