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Website Tracks Government Attacks on Climate Science

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When he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt filed a dozen or more lawsuits to overturn  regulations at the agency he now leads, the EPA. (Somodvilla/GettyImages)
When he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt filed a dozen or more lawsuits to overturn regulations at the agency he now leads, the EPA. (Somodvilla/GettyImages)
NEW YORK – Alarmed over what they see as the government's growing hostility toward science, groups at Columbia Law School have created an online database that tracks attempts to discredit or censor climate scientists.

The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund jointly developed the Silencing Science Tracker to chronicle media reports on government attempts to restrict or prevent scientific research, education, discussion or the publication or use of scientific information, since the November 2016 election.

Romany Webb, a climate law fellow with the Center for Climate Change Law, said they became concerned after Scott Pruitt, an avowed "climate denier," was named to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It was really prompted by our observations of the Trump administration, primarily out of the EPA's decision to disallow agency-funded or government-funded scientists serving on the agency's scientific advisory board," Webb explained.

She said the database went live last month on the anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration. The list of reports is updated daily and, she added, is growing rapidly.

Webb said since Trump took office, the EPA has carried out numerous actions to counter its own scientists, weakening their ability to continue their research or inform the public discourse on climate change.

"A lot of the previous reports have focused on the changes that have happened around EPA websites and personnel changes, things like that," she said. "But we're seeing a whole raft of different agencies involved in similar actions."

Those agencies include the departments of Commerce, Transportation, Labor, and Health and Human Services.

And while the database is meant to serve a watchdog function, Webb noted it is also a resource for academic and legal research.

"We do see the tracker as a resource for other people who are interested in understanding the breadth of attacks on scientists," she said. "The information is going to be very useful to groups that are concerned about government transparency and want to ensure open government."

She added the site has links to other climate-change policy trackers, and future plans include expanding its reach to monitor the actions of state and local governments as well as federal agencies.