In July, Minneapolis city officials issued a news release proclaiming: “Minneapolis posts deleted EPA climate change data.” The city was joining a national effort to showcase the agency’s climate science, in the face of President Donald Trump EPA appointees’ denial that human activities are warming the climate.
One problem: The web pages in question are still on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website. You can find them linked from the EPA home page.
This apparent disconnect was puzzling. So in August, I asked the city of Minneapolis for all data related to their decision to post the EPA climate change pages on the city website.
It took two months for the city to hand over 294 records, most of them e-mails. Here’s what I learned:
The project originated with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly the chief of staff to President Barack Obama, who announced in May that he was posting the EPA climate pages to “ensure this important information does not disappear.”
Emanuel’s administration then invited cities across the nation to follow Chicago’s lead. It sent out a slide presentation with a how-to guide on re-creating the EPA pages on city websites.
One page is titled “Why” and offers several answers, including “Amplification of the importance of data in the climate change discussion,” “It’s different” and “Sending a signal together across the country,” with a sub-bullet point “don’t leak this.”
On June 13, Wanda Ballentine of St. Paul e-mailed a link to a story titled “13 U.S. cities defy Trump by posting deleted climate data” to every council member in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden forwarded the link to city staff, asking “Could we do this?”
She learned the city was already working on it. The IT and communications staff took the lead, although the debut was delayed by the uproar surrounding the July 15 police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in south Minneapolis.
When the pages went live later that month, they featured an introduction whose language mimicked what other cities had posted. “While this information may not be readily available on the EPA’s website, in Minneapolis we know climate change is real.”
Brian Wilson of Minnetonka called the city to complain, and an employee passed it on to a city communications staffer, saying “caller has stated he checked the EPA website and this city statement about the link having been removed is untrue. He would like the city to correct statement, link info.”
Four days later, the staffer, Elizabeth Haugen, responded to the 311 employee. “If this arises again, you can let people know that material has been deleted from the EPA’s current website and archived. We are one of several entities preserving the archived material to make sure people have access to it.”
No one passed that on to Wilson, who still disagrees with the language. He calls it “bending the facts a little bit to politicize” an issue in which Minneapolis and other cities seek to be the “anti-Trump.”
Despite its hostility to government action to curb climate change, the EPA under Trump has not deleted any climate change data, according to Toly Rinberg of the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a group that monitors such things.
“What we have seen is removal of webpages, documents and shifts in language on web pages, and in some cases, removals of links to websites that have data sets,” Rinberg said.
That’s different. If cities want to stake the moral high ground in climate change, they would do better to drop the overheated rhetoric in favor of cold facts.
Contact James Eli Shiffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-673-4116.