If We Want A Clean Environment, Facts Matter

Will data needed for decision-making soon be replaced with “alternative facts?”
Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer disputing press reports about inauguration attendance on Jan. 21.
Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer disputing press reports about inauguration attendance on Jan. 21.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer used his first official briefing to announce, against all evidence, that more people had attended President Trump’s inauguration than at any other time in history. It was a case of, “who you gonna believe, me or your own lyin’ aerial photography?”

How many people actually attended the January 20 event may seem unimportant to some, but a willingness at the highest levels of government to flout evidence is deeply problematic. It begs the question: What comes next?

Will data needed for decision-making – by policymakers, legislators, farmers, business people and others – soon be replaced with “alternative facts?”

While every White House spins numbers for political or policy reasons, they do not normally dispute such numbers themselves. If the unemployment rate is going up, for example, they blame someone or something else, but they don’t claim it’s going down.

To give you a sense of what may be at stake, here are 10 data sources with important environmental information that is regularly reported by the government and on which many sectors of our economy depend:

1. EPA’s air pollution data

These numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lets us know how much air pollution is in the air and being emitted across the country. The amount of this pollution affects the health of millions of Americans.

2. Energy employment numbers from the DOE

These numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy show, among other things, that 2.2 million Americans are employed, in whole or in part, in energy efficiency jobs.

3. Temperature records from NASA and NOAA

This data from NASA and National Oceanographic and the Atmospheric Administration shows what impact greenhouse gas pollution is having on our climate. The latest report showed 2016 was the hottest year on record globally – the third year in a row of record-breaking heat. 

4. Energy Information Agency data

Almost all information from this agency, which tracks energy use and related information, is of utmost importance. The EIA reports how fast clean energy is growing in the U.S., for example, and it provides tools for making projections about energy use and production.

5. EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program

This program requires facilities to monitor and report greenhouse gas emissions above certain threshold levels. It includes a section requiring operators across the oil and natural gas supply chain to estimate methane emissions, an important source of detailed, transparent data.

6. National Park Service Air Monitoring Program

This division of the NPS measures air pollution levels in our national parks and helps us know if we’re protecting our most important natural places.

7. The U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory

The inventory tracks total annual United States emissions. This way we know what progress we’re making against the pollution that is causing dangerous changes to our climate. The Inventory also compiles total emissions by source such as methane from the oil and gas sector, and data on gas mileage and gas mileage and pollution from cars.

8. The Toxics Release Inventory

This database tracks the management of many toxic chemicals that can be a threat to our health and the environment.

9. Water quality data

The federal government assembles this information from water quality reports by more than 400 state, federal, tribal, and local agencies.

10. Asthma data from Centers for Disease Control

The CDC, among many other things, collects data on asthma rates and other diseases linked to air pollution. Because more air pollution means more asthma attacks, it’s important to have a clear picture of the extent of this condition among Americans.

These are just a few of thousands of important statistics that the government collects related to environmental protection that are vital to keeping us safe and that support our economy.

The scientists and other workers who compile this data are dedicated to their missions, and I have no fear that they will suddenly drop their commitment to providing accurate information.

It is up to the rest of us to insist that the political appointees above them learn from the backlash against Spicer’s foray through the looking glass. 

On Twitter @RealKeithGaby

This post first appeared on EDF Voices.