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‘The Silenced’: Meet the Climate Whistle-Blowers Muzzled by Trump

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EDITOR’S NOTE:&nbspThis story originally appeared in The Guardian. It is republished here as part of The Nation‘s partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

From weakening vehicle emissions to blocking warnings about how coastal parks could flood or the impact on the Arctic, the Trump administration is accused of muzzling climate science.

Here six former government scientists describe being sidelined by the administration—and why they won’t be quiet.

Jeff Alson. (Illustration by Máximo Tuja for The Guardian)

Jeff Alson

Role: A former senior engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vehicles lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan

What did the work involve?

I was an engineer at the EPA, working for 40 years in a very technical job. In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama, the EPA started working on greenhouse gas standards for vehicles for the first time. It felt like we were making history.

There was a team of around 25 people producing thousands of pages of analysis for the standards. We knew it would be controversial, but it was a very big deal, the first critical steps to address the climate crisis.

What changed under the Trump administration?

Once Trump was elected, it became pretty clear that things would change. The president came to Michigan in March 2017 and gave a speech where he said he’d look at the standards, that they hurt economic activity and jobs. That was an obvious sign, really.

In August 2018, the administration proposed an eight-year freeze of the greenhouse gas standards. It was unbelievable—for the first time in the history of the EPA the political leadership decided to change pollution standards that were doing well without allowing the career staff and experts to play any sort of role. We were completely locked out.

There was no scientific or technical rationale to rolling back the standards; the analysis they used was the most biased thing I’ve ever seen. They cooked the books and changed every assumption they could to get the answer they wanted. It was so bad that some EPA career staff asked their bosses to take the EPA’s name off it all.

How do you feel about your experience?

It broke my heart. I’d had this wonderful career, playing a small role in making the world a better place. Then we had a political leadership making decisions on ideology, denying science, basically being climate deniers. It felt horrible.

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