What's at stake when facts are ignored? Here are 10 examples.

Keith Gaby

White House spokesman Sean Spicer used his first official briefing to announce, against all evidence, that more people had attended President Trump’s inauguration than at any other time in history. It was a case of, “who you gonna believe, me or your own lyin’ aerial photography?”

How many people actually attended the January 20 event may seem unimportant to some, but a willingness at the highest levels of government to flout evidence is deeply problematic. It begs the question: What comes next?

Will data needed for decision-making – by policymakers, legislators, farmers, business people and others – soon be replaced with “alternative facts?”

While every White House spins numbers for political or policy reasons, they do not normally dispute such numbers themselves. If the unemployment rate is going up, for example, they blame someone or something else, but they don’t claim it’s going down.

To give you a sense of what may be at stake, here are 10 data sources that answer important environmental questions with information regularly reported by the government and on which many sectors of our economy depend.

1. How much pollution is in the air?

Numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tell us how much air pollution is emitted into the air across the country. The amount of this pollution affects the health of millions of Americans.

2. How many clean energy jobs are there today?

Employment numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy show, among other things, that 2.2 million Americans are working full or part-time in energy efficiency jobs.

3. Is our water safe to drink?

The federal government assembles information from water quality reports that is used by more than 400 state, federal, tribal and local agencies.

4. How does pollution affect our climate?

Data from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration shows what impact greenhouse gas pollution is having on our climate. The latest report showed that 2016 was the hottest year on record globally – the third year in a row of record-breaking heat. 

5. How much energy do we use?

Almost all information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which tracks energy use and related information, is of utmost importance. The EIA reports how fast clean energy is growing in the United States, for example, and it provides tools for making projections about energy use and production.

6. How much climate pollution does industry emit?

EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program requires facilities to monitor and report greenhouse gas emissions above certain threshold levels. It includes a section requiring operators across the oil and natural gas supply chain to estimate methane emissions, an important source of detailed, transparent data.

7. How dirty is the air in our national parks?

The National Park Service’s Air Monitoring Program measures air pollution levels throughout the national parks system, and helps us know if we’re protecting our most important natural places.

8. Is the United States reducing emissions? 

The U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory tracks total annual emissions. This way we know what progress we’re making in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and whether we’re meeting international climate commitments. The Inventory also compiles total emissions by source, such as methane from the oil and gas sector and data on gas mileage and pollution from cars.

9. Which toxic chemicals are released, and where? 

The Toxics Release Inventory, a database managed by the EPA, tracks the management of many toxic chemicals that can be a threat to our health and the environment.

10. What’s the asthma rate?

The Centers for Disease Control collects, among many other things, data on asthma rates and other diseases linked to air pollution. Because more air pollution means more asthma attacks, it’s important to have a clear picture of the extent of this condition among Americans.

These are just a few of thousands of important statistics that the government collects related to environmental protection that are vital to keeping us safe and that support our economy.

The scientists and other workers who compile this data are dedicated to their missions, and I have no fear that they will suddenly drop their commitment to providing accurate information.

It is up to the rest of us to insist that the political appointees above them learn from the backlash against Spicer’s foray through the looking glass. 


From Pruitts opening statement:


"Environmental law, policy, and progress are all based on cooperation: cooperation between the States, cooperation between the States and EPA, and cooperation between the regulators and the public. Such cooperation is essential because clean air and water and a healthy environment are essential to the American way of life and key to our economic success and competitiveness."

and again with the states rights:

"If we truly want to advance and achieve cleaner air and water the States must be partners and not mere passive instruments of federal will. If confirmed, I will utilize the relationships I have forged with my counterparts in the States to ensure that EPA returns to its proper role, rather than using a heavy hand to coerce the States into effectuating EPA policies."

Does anyone notice the missing medium in both quotes to what it is the EPA does? It's land. Land is the missing medium. The EPA protects land, water and air. The environment as the surroundings to the human system includes land, water and air.

I realize soil and groundwater are like, totally a pain to protect. Siting a landfill (renamed dump) should just be down the side of the holler out back. Agriculture should be able to accept wastewater treatment sludge and dissolved air floatation float for nutrient/carbon applications, i.e. landfarming of prescription drugs flushed down toilet and refinery oily goo, respectively. And oil and gas should be able to just dump its blowback water all over the place - right next to the well pad. Groundwater shouldn't be pumped out not containing whatever the mom and pop spent solvents recovery operation dumped in the pit next to their drum storage. Now that will make us competitive against the Chinese, with its $1 trillion in contaminated soil liability.

At least with Pruitt, environmental nonprofits like EDF now know where middle ground lies when applying third way common sense based environmental consultancy and advocacy. That would be a patch of land with soil soaking in diluted tar sands spilled from a pipe several years prior.

Michael Berndtson
January 24, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Since I have asthma and mild emphysema it's important I know which days I should not venture forth into the outside world or which areas to avoid due to excess pollution levels!

January 25, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Our very existence is at stake!

Charlotte Crist
January 26, 2017 at 1:14 pm

These 10 sets of data are very important to monitor progress or otherwise. It should be a required list for all countries
and territories.

Hong Kong does not have reports on GHG, clean energy, toxic release. However data on asthma as related to air pollution should be generated by Centre for Health Protection. The indoor air quality should be regulated.

Vivian Taam
January 29, 2017 at 8:52 pm

"What's at stake when facts are ignored"? Is this really a headline on a site whose editors don't seem to get that their organization had become a Party to an Application to shut down a clean power source that delivers 8% of our California electricity?

As a long-time supporter of EDF, I'm ashamed. ..

"EDF supports this proposal... As of October 2015, the CEC states California had a capacity of 21,700 megawatts (MW), made up of biomass, geothermal, small hydro, wind, solar thermal, solar photovoltaics (PV), and self -generation capacity."

This is a profoundly ignorant, un-environmental action. And, I no longer contribute. Call if confused.

Dr. A. Cannara

Dr. A. Cannara
January 31, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Hi Dr. Cannara and thank you for your comment.

Diablo Canyon has been delivering carbon-free electricity to California customers for more than 30 years. During that time however, the state’s electricity sector has seen tremendous transformation in front of and behind the meter. California is now powering at least 25% of homes with renewable resources, and maintains some of the lowest electricity per capita rates due in part to smart policies around energy efficiency.

But to achieve our goal of 50% renewables and beyond, we must focus on clean energy resources that allow for the cost-effective, flexible integration of our abundant clean energy resources – strategies and tools like time of use pricing, demand response and energy storage.

PGE has proposed to replace Diablo canyon’s output over the remaining period of the plant’s license (through 2025) with carbon-free resources that will ensure that our state’s essential climate and energy goals remain on track and that clean, reliable and affordable power is maintained for all Californians. EDF supports this vision, and are encouraging that the plan also include more time of use pricing, demand response resources and other clean, cost-competitive resources procured through wholesale markets and incentivized with time-variant retail rates and other utility programs.

Demand response is a carbon free and cost competitive resource that is at the top of California's loading order and should be an important element in the measured replacement of Diablo Canyon with a full, comprehensive portfolio of clean energy.


Jayant Kairam,
Director of EDF's California Clean Energy program

Jayant Kairam
January 31, 2017 at 4:40 pm

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