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The March for Science in Los Angeles on April 22, 2017. (Photo: Ken Shin/flickr/cc)

Trump Furthers War on Science With 'Illegal' Nomination of Climate Denier for Top USDA Scientist

'Science plays a crucial role in a healthy democracy, but this administration has taken a wrecking ball to it'

Andrea Germanos

As the administration continues to take a "wrecking ball" to science, President Donald Trump on Wednesday officially nominated climate change denier, conservative talk radio host, and former Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis to the top science job at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The expected nomination drew condemnation from advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which reiterated its statement that Clovis serving as the USDA's undersecretary for research, education, and economics is illegal.

That's because the 2008 Farm Bill requires the president to nominate a person for that post "from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics." And as ProPublica previously noted, Clovis can boast of no such credentials:

Clovis has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. While he has a doctorate in public administration and was a tenured professor of business and public policy at Morningside College for 10 years, he has published almost no academic work.

According to Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment Program at UCS, Clovis is "the wrong choice," and his nomination "is another example of the Trump administration sidelining science and rejecting evidence-based decision-making, once again working against the interests of American farmers, rural communities, and consumers."

"The USDA plays a vital role in keeping the nation's food safe and its water clean; improving nutrition for all of our children; and giving farmers the tools they need to improve farm productivity and profitability and manage long-term challenges including climate variability, water availability, and soil health. These complex and urgent issues all demand science-based solutions and USDA leadership with deep appreciation and understanding of the scientific process. Sam Clovis simply doesn't have the tools required for the job," Salvador continued.

Friends of the Earth raised similar concerns about Clovis's nomination and called it "a direct attack on science."

"The critical challenges facing America's farmers and our food system, including pollinator declines, deteriorating soil health, and a changing climate, make the USDA's science mission more important than ever. The USDA cannot help farmers cope with the effects of climate change if the agency's head of science doesn’t believe in it," said Lisa Archer, the organization's food and technology program director.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, weighed in on the nomination as well, and also expressed concerns about Clovis's qualifications for the post.

Clovis, she said in a statement Thursday, "seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill. I also have many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education."

The nomination came as Trump marked his first six months in office, during which the administration has repeatedly "sidelined science," UCS said in a new report

Since Trump took office, the report's executive summary states,

The administration has shown a blatant disregard for scientific facts and evidence, appointing officials with a track record of misrepresenting scientific information, overruling the recommendations of scientists on exposure to toxic pesticides, removing scientific information from agency websites, and dismissing independent science advisors. Aided and abetted by Congress, the administration has delayed or eviscerated science-based rules that safeguard the American people, from protecting workers from toxic work environments to helping communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. Moreover, President Trump and his administration have created a hostile environment for federal government scientists, making it more difficult for these individuals to meet their job duties and responsibilities and engendering fear about discussing their work.

The report also offers a timeline of the over 40 attacks on science, a visualization of which can be seen here.

"Science plays a crucial role in a healthy democracy, but this administration has taken a wrecking ball to it," said UCS President Ken Kimmell, also a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. "The actions they've taken in just six months have already put people at risk, but the damage they do could last for years to come."

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