The USDA’s inspector general launched an investigation Monday into allegations that the agency withheld hundreds of reports on climate change, as farmers continue to reel from effects of severe storms and weather with little support.
The internal probe follows a report in September that found the Trump administration failed to publish 1,400 USDA climate studies.
Politico first reported on a few dozen cases in June where the agency had failed to issue press releases on government climate research. That report sparked an inquiry from Maine representative Chellie Pingree.
The investigation comes at a time of turmoil for the agency, and on the back of one of the worst years on record for climate-related disasters. Severe rainfall this spring flooded 20 million acres of farmland that could not be planted.
The USDA announced in June that it would move its Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from Washington, DC to Kansas City. The agency’s inspector general said the move might have been illegal.
Workers in those offices unionized as a result, and up to 80 percent of the have fled to other jobs. The exodus caused the agency to delay or scuttle reports on climate change and other economic research, which several other agencies rely on.
Meanwhile, the USDA’s top program for helping farmers adapt to climate change operates under a shadow of hostile rhetoric and scant resources. That’s the picture painted in a Politico article that includes interviews with employees speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation.
The Obama administration launched a network of regional USDA hubs across the country to help farmers. But under Trump, staffing has dwindled to skeleton crews and employees keep a low profile to avoid making waves under an administration that is hostile toward climate science.
The USDA spends about 0.3 percent of its $144 billion budget to help farmers adapt to climate change.
While Twitter accounts for the regional hubs have shared advice and reports on severe weather and effects of climate change like impact on pollinators, the USDA’s main account, Politico found, hadn’t even mentioned the word “climate” since 2017.
USDA's Internal Watchdog To Probe Allegedly Buried Climate Change Reports (The Hill)
'I'm Standing Right Here In The Middle Of Climate Change': How USDA Is Failing Farmers (Politico)