December 29, 2019 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

Two year-end pieces from the New York Times capture the Trump administration’s awful toll on public health.

Nadja Popovich, Livia Albeck-Ripka, and Kendra Pierre-Louis tally 95 environmental rules that the Trump administration has undone or is in the process of rolling back. The areas where the most deregulatory damage has occurred are air pollution/emissions and drilling/extraction, but also include things like revoking flood standards for federal road and bridge projects and ending an OSHA program to reduce workers’ risk of developing silicosis. The piece does highlight 10 rules that were reinstated after challenges, but the overall picture is grim.

It’s important to recognize that the Trump administration isn’t just revoking rules that are important for public health; it’s also damaging the infrastructure we’ve relied on to ensure regulations are evidence-based. Brad Plumer and Coral Davenport give the big picture on how the Trump administration is sidelining researchers and their work:

In just three years, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide, marking a transformation of the federal government whose effects, experts say, could reverberate for years.

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

“The disregard for expertise in the federal government is worse than it’s ever been,” Michael Gerrand told Plumer and Davenport. “It’s pervasive.” Gerrand directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, which partners with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to run the Silencing Science Tracker.

Plumer and Davenport note that Congress has been able to avert many of the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts at agencies that fund and conduct scientific research. The legislative branch has been less able to serve as a countervailing force when it comes to harmful rulemakings and the loss of talent from the ranks of federal staff and advisory committees, though. An important first step to mitigate this disaster is for Congress to pass the Scientific Integrity Act. To truly turn things around, though, we’ll need an executive branch that respects science and values public health.

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