Two Trump appointees to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who published a set of documents denying climate change were reassigned on Tuesday. David Legates and Ryan Maue will be reportedly returning to positions at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The documents, published bearing the seal of the Executive Office of the President, repeated common climate-denial talking points, including that “a large measure of faith” plays a role in climate change and that the sun is responsible for warming (it isn’t).
The documents were released on a website associated with Wei-Hock Soon, also known as Willie Soon, whose work attributing climate change to solar rays was funded by the fossil fuel industry as part of a campaign to manufacture doubt about climate change.
Legates and Maue were appointed by the Trump administration to the NOAA last September in the lead-up to the 2020 election. The NOAA, which oversees climate research and modeling, had otherwise remained largely free of influence from the Trump administration, in contrast to other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior, where scientists were fired or sidelined.
This isn’t just a bureaucratic mishap. In November, Legates was appointed to head the U.S. Global Change Research Program for the OSTP, where he was in charge of leading the next National Climate Assessment, slated for publication in 2023. The assessment is produced by the federal government to review the effects of climate change on the United States. In 2018, President Trump said he “didn’t believe” the results of the fourth National Climate Assessment, which predicted that climate change would cause billions of dollars of damage to the U.S. economy.
Andrew Rosenberg, a former NOAA official, told the Washington Post that the documents were designed to lend legitimacy to “nonsensical, debunked pseudoscience,” a way to “seed the record for the National Climate assessment and future legal action by circumventing the peer review and consensus process.”
One of the documents, entitled “Systematic Problems in the Four ‘National Assessments’ of Climate Change Impacts on the United States,” questioned the methodology of the previous four National Assessments — which underwent multiple rounds of peer review.
Legates and Maue both have experience denying the science behind climate change. Legates has co-authored multiple papers with Soon, including some funded by the fossil fuel industry, and was affiliated with the Heartland Institute, a non-profit known for spreading climate misinformation. Maue co-authored an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal two years ago downplaying the severity of climate change, and frequently contributes to the climate denial blog WattsUpWithThat. Maue was appointed as NOAA’s chief scientist after the agency’s previous chief scientist, Craig McClean, was fired after asking new Trump hires to acknowledge the agency’s policy on scientific integrity.
Kevin Droegemeier, the OSTP’s director, did not approve the documents published by Legates and Maue, according to its spokesperson, Kristina Baum. “Dr. Droegemeier was outraged to learn of the materials that were not shared with or approved by OSTP leadership. He first became aware of the documents when contacted by the press,” Baum said in a statement. Falsely attaching a U.S. government seal to any document is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
The documents have since been removed from the website, and updated with a note saying that the documents were “a temporary draft,” claiming that coverage of the documents by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Earther were “hit pieces.”