Donald Trump’s administration is moving to kill off two U.S. advisory boards dealing with the protection of marine life and management of invasive species in the country, the Hill reported on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. government defunded both the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee (part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Interior Department’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee, both of which have been around for over a decade. Two scientists on the marine life committee told the Hill that they had been told it was being disbanded via email, but were given no reason as to why.
“Two years ago, when the federal advisory committee was up for renewal, a lot of us thought it would get the ax given the politics of the federal government,” committee scientist Will McClintock told the site. “When it didn’t, we were surprised and glad we had the extra two years. Now that it’s been discontinued, I can only guess at the reasons why… A committee like this is not interested in supporting one or two sectors like oil and gas or fisheries. We are interested in supporting all sectors in finding out a way to protect and use ocean resources.”
In June, the Trump administration issued an executive order mandating that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as others, eliminate at least one third of their advisory boards. At the time, there were some 1,000 such panels with 60,000 members; the executive order said that agencies should review whether the “stated objectives of the committee have been accomplished” or “had become obsolete” when determining which to eliminate. These appear to be the first boards confirmed to be cut under the order, with numerous others likely to follow.
The NOAA marine life board in question advised the agency on the challenges facing some 1,700 marine protected areas in the U.S., the Hill noted, whereas Trump has pushed the U.S. Commerce Department to examine whether marine areas that gained protected status since 2007 should be opened to “offshore energy potential.” Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (who resigned under the cloud of multiple ethics investigations) had also recommended that a number of national monuments be reduced in size or opened to commercial fishing.
According to the Hill, the elimination of the invasive species committee was told they were cut because Interior expects its parent body, the National Invasive Species Council, to have its funding cut in half. Wildlife Centre of Virginia president and founder Ed Clark also told the site that “antagonism” between the committee and the Department of Agriculture, which oversees food imports, “grew to pretty transparent hostility” in recent years.
“I am guessing it is not simple coincidence that several of the ISAC white papers on various topics in the last three years repeatedly mentioned that existing federal programs, especially those at USDA, were myopic and largely ineffective in certain areas due to their failure to collaborate with other agencies,” Clark told the Hill.
“I think it’s probably easy pickings,”committee member and University of Rhode Island natural resources science expert Laura Meyerson told the site. “It’s a little committee that probably nobody was paying attention to. It was probably easy for people on the lower rungs to get rid of it.”
In a blog post, the Union of Concerned Scientists argued that NOAA and the Interior Department’s inability or refusal to provided detailed information about the cuts was almost certainly motivated to sideline scientists in favour of industry:
Those criteria are almost certainly being withheld because it would be impossible to justify that a committee dedicated to understanding how to protect ocean resources (marine protected areas make up 41% of the marine waters) when climate change poses an immensely urgent threat to ocean health isn’t needed by our government.
Or that a committee that provided unpopular advice on the need for improved effectiveness of government programs to protect our ports from invasive species (including bacteria that could impact the safety of our food system) was no longer needed at a time when the percentage of imported food is on the rise and inspections are laughably low.
Under Trump, the White House has launched broadside after broadside against U.S. scientific bodies. It’s directed particular ire at the Environmental Protection Agency, but other agencies that have seen scientific advice systematically disregarded include everything from the departments of Interior and Energy to the FDA and multi-agency teams that prepare the National Climate Assessment.
Scientific American recently interviewed six former federal environmental and climate experts, all of whom told the magazine that the White House more or less barreled in and immediately began suppressing scientific work inconvenient to their political goals.