Multiple media outlets reported Jan. 25 that staff at the U.S. EPA had been ordered to scrub climate change information from the agency's expansive website, but later reports said the Trump administration had backed down from the directive.
The section of the EPA's website dedicated to climate change includes links to information on possible impacts for all regions of the country, greenhouse gas data and science from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on warming trends.
Citing two unnamed EPA staffers, Reuters reported that the directive to remove the information came from administration officials. The employees reportedly said they were notified Jan. 24 that communications personnel had been instructed to remove the EPA.gov website's climate change section as early as the following day.
"If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear," one of the EPA sources reportedly told Reuters. EPA staff was said to be scrambling to save some of the information housed on the page while also attempting to convince the Trump administration to keep portions of the information.
Those efforts may have worked, as Inside EPA reported later Jan. 25 that the administration had "agreed to stand down."
The news came a day after another leak related that a gag order had been imposed on EPA staff and that the agency's grant program, which funds state climate change and other initiatives, had been put on ice. Also on Jan. 24, at least two accounts associated with the U.S. National Parks Service tweeted facts about climate change that were removed by the next morning.
Speaking at the daily press briefing at the White House Jan. 25, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the directive for the EPA gag order did not come from the White House. He also said at least one instance of the National Parks Service tweeting "inappropriate things" since the inauguration was attributed to someone in its San Francisco office who had an old password to one of the NPS's social media accounts. Spicer said the action was in violation of that agency's policy.
Spicer said the gag order and restrictions placed on social media practices at the EPA were issued by current agency leadership trying to stem violations of the agency's own communications policies. He noted that the EPA was found to have violated its own policy by "marketing some policies of President Obama" a year ago. The press secretary may have been referring to a successful legal challenge brought by opponents of the agency's Clean Water Rule, commonly referred to as the Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS, complaining about the EPA's social media practices in promoting the rule.
"I think there's a couple of these agencies that have had problems adhering to their own policies, and I would refer you back to them as to why those things are happening," Spicer said. "I know that they are taking steps to address inappropriate use of social media."
When pressed later on whether the White House had a hand in directing the gag order, Spicer said the administration has been much more focused on other issues.
"They haven't been directed by us to do anything. I think from what I understand is that they've been told within their agencies to adhere to their own policies. But that directive did not come from here," Spicer said.