The Environmental Protection Agency's website has gotten a makeover since the Trump administration took office, with some references to climate change now wiped from its pages.
But the agency removed the word "climate" from a division's name and webpage even before President Donald Trump's inauguration, suggesting that EPA employees had started constraining information in anticipation of the incoming chill from the new administration.
The division once known as Climate Ready Water Utilities was rebranded as the Creating Resilient Water Utilities in late December, according to archived webpages. By then, Myron Ebell had been in place as head of the agency's transition team for more than a month. Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute who has long promoted climate denial in his work, was considered a threat to the agency's mission by many of the career employees.
The program's website originally said the initiative "provides the water sector (drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utilities) with the practical tools, training, and technical assistance needed to adapt to climate change by promoting a clear understanding of climate science and adaptation options." The page now highlights resilience to extreme weather events aimed at adaptation, with no mention of climate change.
Two sections listed on the division's webpage, "Get Climate Training for Your Utility" and "Access Climate Change Resources," were removed. (The links listed in these sections still go to live pages, but they are not accessible via the main page. That includes the link to climate trainings; the page lists one upcoming training, for August 2016.)
One section was changed from "Plan for Climate Change at Your Utility" to "Plan for Extreme Weather." Another was altered from "Assess Your Risk to Climate Change" to "Assess Your Risk and Find Resources."
The program's website also removed references of climate change from the sidebar, including a link to the "EPA Climate Change Newsroom."
The EPA has not yet responded to requests for comment.
In January, several reports emerged that the new administration ordered the agency to take down its climate change page. But that page remains up, albeit with some changes.
"Early on things disappeared, and then they reappeared," said Patty Lovera, assistant director at the advocacy group Food & Water Watch. "It's a rational theory to worry if people are trying to keep under the radar to protect the core mission."
The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) has been tracking the changes, which have included the removal of language that says the U.S. is committed to international climate pledges and that carbon pollution is the driving cause of climate change.
"I don't know what the motivation was on the timing, but it sure does raise concerns," Lovera said, referring to the renaming of the water division and removal of climate change mentions. "They're recognizing the symptoms, but they can't talk about the disease... It seems silly to have people plan for extreme weather and not have a conversation about what's driving it."
The Climate Ready Water Utilities division, launched by EPA to help water utilities cope with threats from climate change, had appeared poised to get a boost in the EPA's budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year, prepared toward the end of the Obama administration. It called for additional technical help to 25 urban areas and training for 1,000 water utilities to "improve resilience in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems."
That added infusion of money is under threat now. The Trump administration's new budget proposal will call for a large increase in military spending and slashing the budget of the EPA along with other non-defense agencies, the administration said Monday. While Congress will have the final say on the budget, the proposal sends a signal about the administration's priorities.