WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control postponed a summit scheduled for next month on climate change and public health ahead of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, participants and the CDC confirmed Monday.
While the Trump administration did not explicitly ask for the move, one of the scheduled keynote speakers of the Climate and Health Summit believes the move was made with the new President’s position on climate change in mind. Trump has famously called climate change a “hoax,” though his Cabinet has attempted to strike a more moderate tone in confirmation hearings.
The CDC started to notify participants just before Christmas that the meeting was “postponed,” according to CDC spokeswoman Bernadette Burden.
“We are exploring options to reschedule the meeting while considering budget priorities for fiscal year 2017, including the current continuing resolution, and potential overlap with an APHA conference on the same topic also being held later in 2017,” Burden said in a statement.
The meeting postponement was first reported by E&E News.
The American Public Health Association is planning a fall meeting, said Executive Director George Benjamin, but the February conference had been intended as a kickoff to a year of climate and health-related events. Benjamin was supposed to deliver one of the opening keynotes at the conference next month.
While the Trump administration did not directly cancel this conference, Benjamin said, it bears the hallmark of his influence.
“They ran this up the flagpole a few weeks before the Inauguration,” Benjamin said of the conference organizers. “They were afraid that the Trump administration would cancel it and it would create all kinds of political headaches for them.”
Benjamin said the CDC has in the past gotten political heat for positions on sensitive issues like a gun initiative in recent years.
“They’re pretty gun-shy — pun intended — over these types of issues,” he said.
Climate scientists have been concerned about what the Trump administration might do on environmental policy since his election. Some have been creating their own archives of government climate data for fear of it possibly disappearing from agency websites, and others were alarmed when a new Trump administration White House website did not immediately have a page for climate change like the Obama administration did.
Trump’s team is still populating his new website, which was created fresh after the Obama site was archived.
One of Trump’s first executive actions was halting any non-finalized Obama administration regulation — a common action for an incoming president of a different party than his predecessor — which halts some environmental rules.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Benjamin characterized himself and APHA as “disappointed,” but said he hopes the interested groups will find a way to hold another conference later in the year — with or without the new administration.
“I’m very much concerned about the precedent and very concerned about how (the Trump administration will) handle climate change going forward,” Benjamin said.
“The truth of the matter is we can pretend like climate change is not here, but … it’s a big issue. So we can put a name to it and try to fix it, or we can not put a name to it, but we’re going to have to fix it anyway,” he added. “But we thinking putting a name to and trying to fix it is a more intellectually honest way to do it.”
Trump’s environmental nominees have raised the ire of environmental groups in confirmation hearings, but most have refrained from voicing full-throated skepticism before senators as some have in the past.
None have called climate change a “hoax.” Instead, all said that the climate is changing and man has a role, but they say there is still debate on how much of a factor human action is and on how to stop it — a position contrary to the strong consensus among scientists that climate change is man-made and drastic action is needed to prevent a series of harmful effects including rising sea levels and extreme weather.