The Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage about climate change reawakened from a four-year slumber on Thursday morning. Turn to the page now and you’ll see: “EPA is restoring the science in addressing the climate crisis.”
In April 2017, the Trump administration took down the agency’s extensive trove of resources on climate change, saying the site was removing “outdated language” to “reflect the EPA’s priorities” under its new leadership. That leader was Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s first EPA chief, whose tenure was ridden with scandals over his ritzy spending habits and coziness with industry lobbyists.
The website’s removal was a part of a larger trend: The use of the term “climate change” on the websites of federal environmental agencies went down by 38 percent over the course of the Trump era. “Sorry, but this web page is not available for viewing right now,” the EPA’s climate change site said for years — until this week.
The Biden administration’s EPA didn’t just resurrect the Obama-era version. It added language that reflects the growing sense of urgency around our overheating planet, naming the “climate crisis” as a “priority.” It includes links to President Joe Biden’s executive orders on rejoining the Paris climate agreement and other measures to tackle the crisis. The website currently links to resources on climate research, clean energy programs, information for kids, and it says it will be adding more soon.
The EPA’s page on climate has been around for more than two decades, providing information to the public on the latest science and tips to trim your carbon footprint. “If you are looking for information on “climate change,” “the greenhouse effect,” or “global warming, ” you’ve come to the right place,” it declared in August 1997.
Does it really matter what the government says about climate change on the internet? Experts say yes. The Office of Management and Budget has long advised agencies to expect that their website is the primary way they’re communicating with the public, said Gretchen Gehrke, who has been tracking the changing language on government websites over the past four years with the Environmental Data Governance Initiative.
“Most agencies have not created resources that would really allow the public to build their knowledge on an issue,” Gehrke said, in an interview earlier this year, but the EPA made headway on making key information accessible under former President Barack Obama. The Trump administration, Gehrke said, removed resources that had been “tailor-made” for an audience looking for the basics, like fact sheets and infographics.
While this information is often available elsewhere on the web, learning the facts about climate change finally has the federal stamp of approval — again. As EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement, “Climate facts are back on EPA’s website where they should be.”