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Striving for a voice

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
January 30, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 5

It’s an interesting time to live in Washington, D.C. As U.S. President Donald J. Trump begins to shape his Administration, the eyes of the world are fixed on this relatively small city and big center of political power. In the past couple of weeks, D.C. has welcomed crowds flowing in to celebrate Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 followed by the Women’s March, a nationwide demonstration in support of women’s rights, on Jan. 21.

For many of us who live in D.C., inauguration Friday became a work-at-home day to escape traffic caused by the closure of certain roads for the presidential parade and a crowded Metro system. We avoided a spate of protesters rioting, which ended with more than 200 arrested. Those attending the Women’s March on Saturday, which saw no arrests, had a free run of the city with no commuter traffic, and for the most part the congestion slowed public transportation.

Fast-forward to Jan. 25, and demonstrations continue in D.C. During the morning rush hour, seven activists affiliated with Greenpeace climbed a construction crane near the White House. The activists occupied the crane for 14 hours, after which they were arrested and charged. During their time at the top, they displayed a large banner reading “Resist” that could be seen from the Ellipse and the White House South Lawn.

The action was designed to protest Trump’s presidency and, in particular, two events that happened last week: the decision to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and “issuing gag orders on the press and the EPA and the department of agriculture,” according to a statement a Greenpeace activist made to news organization CNN.

Despite opposition from environmental groups who argue that the pipeline would increase U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change, on Jan. 24 Trump signed two executive orders reviving the controversial Keystone and Dakota pipeline projects as well as a third accelerating environmental reviews of similar ventures. During remarks at the signing event, he indicated that the project would create 28,000 construction jobs and that, in addition, he’d want the pipes to be made in the U.S., potentially boosting the domestic steel industry.

A day earlier, the Trump Administration had reportedly restricted communication from federal scientists at EPA and USDA to the public and the press. The staff at those two organizations reportedly received e-mails informing them that they may no longer discuss agency research or departmental restrictions with anyone outside the agency, including the media. Scientists and other staff were also reportedly told that press releases and external communication about taxpayer-funded work would stop until further notice. Separately, on that same day the Trump Administration announced that federal contracts and grants would be temporarily frozen at EPA.

The government’s seeming strengthening of control over communications at these two agencies caused a strong reaction from many scientists and the public on social media even after USDA insisted the whole thing was a “misunderstanding” and explained that the agency wasn’t suppressing communication because its researchers can still publish peer-reviewed articles or participate in interviews—with agency approval.

In his first days in office, Trump has moved fast to act on some of the promises he made during his campaign. Within the science community, there has been opposition to some of these actions. For example, a group is organizing a “Scientists’ March on Washington,” and 314 Action, a political action committee designed to support Democratic scientists running for office, has returned to the limelight. It’s early days in the transition, and only time will tell whether these are the right actions to take. But while we wait for a science adviser to be appointed and a scientific agenda to be put forward, some scientists are striving for their voices to be heard.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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