Trumps USDA buried sweeping climate change response plan
The Agriculture Department quashed the release of a sweeping plan on how to respond to climate change that was finalized in the early days of the Trump administration, according to a USDA employee with knowledge of the decision.
Staff members across several USDA agencies drafted the multiyear plan that outlines how the department should help agriculture understand, adapt to and minimize the effects of climate change.
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Top officials, however, decided not to release the plan and told staff members to keep it for internal use only, the employee told POLITICO. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.
The goal was to map out “the science that USDA needs to pursue over the next five to eight years for the department to meet the needs of the nation,” according to the plan, a copy of which was shared with POLITICO.
The revelation comes after a recent POLITICO investigation found that the department had largely stopped promoting its own scientific findings about the consequences of climate change. The USDA has also moved away from using phrases like climate change, climate, and greenhouse gas emissions in press releases and social media posts.
The scuttled plan, prepared in 2017, liberally uses those terms. The document also calls on USDA to help farmers, ranchers and forestland owners “understand their effect on climate change.”
A spokesperson for the department declined to answer specific questions about the plan but said that USDA has no policy in place to discourage dissemination of climate science or use of climate-related terms. The spokesperson also noted President Donald Trump repealed an Obama era executive order that required government agencies to conduct climate planning and that the current administration has different requirements in place.
The USDA’s climate resilience plan was supposed to be an update to a 2010 plan on climate science — a document that was released publicly during the Obama administration.
The plan had begun to go through an internal clearance process before a senior official quashed its release, according to the person familiar with the decision.
The 33-page plan sets ambitious goals for addressing a broad range of climate change effects. It proposes “moving agriculture and natural resource systems to carbon neutral and beyond” by reducing greenhouse gas emissions through practices such as increasing carbon storage in crops and soils.
It also notes the importance of studying the “human dimensions” of climate change — such as how it affects production, trade, pricing, and producer and consumer behavior.
The agenda proposes to make climate change “an explicit and functional component” of “all USDA mission areas through the timely development, delivery, and application of relevant science.”
The document acknowledges that climate change is already affecting farmers and ranchers as well as forests.
“Changing temperatures and precipitation, along with altered pest pressures, influence rates of crop maturation and livestock productivity,” the document states.
“Forests are already experiencing increased disturbance, including widespread wildfires and pest-related die-offs, as a result of changing climactic conditions and prolonged drought,” the plan continues. Elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already affecting the quality of grassland forage, the report notes.
But the plan also suggests farmers can make money by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adopting practices that promote carbon sequestration.
The document also says that USDA should be working to “increase public awareness of climate change” and how it is likely to affect agriculture and forestry in particular.
News of the report comes as USDA’s chief scientist is scheduled to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee this morning.
Scott Hutchins, deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics, is expected to field pointed questions from lawmakers about burying climate science at the department as well as on plans to relocate two research agencies out of Washington to Kansas City, as recently announced by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Both those agencies — the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture — were cited as important partners in carrying out the climate change plan.