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When the Environmental Protection Agency’s website underwent an overhaul of climate change information on a Friday in late April, Toly Rinberg and Andrew Bergman, both Harvard Ph.D. students in applied physics, set off to figure out what was gone.
Sitting in their shared Washington, D.C. apartment, they started a spreadsheet to track the changes. Suddenly missing, they noticed, were scores of pages dedicated to helping state and local governments deal with climate change. The EPA site where those pages lived, titled “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments,” would disappear for three months, only to come back in July without the word “climate” in its title. The new website now focuses only on energy policy and resources, and is down to 175 pages from 380.
Also affected by the April changes was a website on the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which had previously included fact sheets on carbon pollution from power plants and the impact of those emissions on different groups across the country. In its place was a new site featuring a picture of President Donald Trump signing an executive order aimed at dismantling the Clean Power Plan.
The roommates had taken a leave of absence to help lead the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), a mostly volunteer network formed after President Trump’s election that monitors about 25,000 federal web pages each week for changes. They found references to climate change removed from seven federal agencies’ websites, with some of the biggest changes happening on the EPA site, where terms like “greenhouse gasses,” “carbon” and “climate change” have been reduced and replaced with terms like “sustainability,” “emissions” and “air pollution.” And this week, they reported that in September, the agency stripped links from its “Greening EPA” website, which tracks the agency’s work to reduce the environmental impact of its own facilities and operations. Links to the agency’s climate change adaptation plans were removed, according to the report, as was language around a more specific EPA goal to purchase renewable energy to cover all of its nationwide electricity use.