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Cities Give New Home to Climate Data Deleted by Trump

More than a month after the Trump administration purged data tracking climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency's website, the numbers are going back online in some unexpected places.

By Lizzie Johnson

More than a month after the Trump administration purged data tracking climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency's website, the numbers are going back online in some unexpected places.

San Francisco and 11 other cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Houston and Seattle, were set to launch their own websites Sunday publishing the numbers. The information -- posted here on a San Francisco city website -- includes the science behind climate change, how weather patterns are impacted by it, and detailed data charting greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures around the globe.

"Climate change is real and it is one of world's greatest economic and health risks," the city's page notes. "Despite federal actions, San Francisco will continue to take aggressive action on climate change."

Mayor Ed Lee, who recently committed to join the Paris agreement with 270 other mayors, says it is a way of stepping up and making sure important data and information is available. Lee has a local record of working to lessen San Francisco's carbon footprint, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2017, a goal he likes to tout.

"Deleting federal web pages does not reset the scientific consensus that climate change is real," Lee said in a statement. "The American people are entitled to the publicly funded EPA research on climate change. And while the federal government continues to undermine the progress we've made on climate change, cities are taking a stand."

Officials scrapped the EPA web pages hosting climate change research in late April, saying it was done to better represent the agency's new direction under President Trump. Some of the deleted documents include expansive data sets on rising global temperatures, fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions and how specific demographic groups are impacted by them, and findings from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"As EPA renews its commitment to human health and clean air, land, and water, our website needs to reflect the views of the leadership of the agency," J.P. Freire, the agency's associate administrator for public affairs, said in an April statement of the deleted pages, which have been online since at least 1997.

In early May, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was the first city official to launch his own website with detailed climate change information. The Chicago city website now chronicles data taken from the EPA's archives, with the addendum, "while this information may not be readily available on the agency's web page right now, here in Chicago we know climate change is real and we will continue to take action to fight it."

In a May statement, Emanuel said that while the Trump administration could try to erase decades of work from scientists and federal employees, burying their heads in the sand wouldn't erase the problem.

Paul Steinberg, a professor of global environmental politics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont (Los Angeles County), said the data dump is an example of how decentralized the United States' system is, compared with other countries. Even if climate change is not a focus for the federal government, states and cities have discretion on how they respond to it.

"The significance lies in the fact that addressing climate change and sustainability are now mainstream concerns for city officials," he said. "They have insights and practical experiences with how to make the transition to a lower carbon economy. ... Local information can be a very powerful tool for catalyzing change."

Bruce Monger, a senior oceanography lecturer at Cornell University, said the move emphasizes the importance local governments now play in creating green environmental policies.

"I knew when the Trump administration came into office that the shift would have to happen to make progress," said Monger, who teaches a class of 1,000 students. "Local government is the most responsive to the people, and the states are the second most responsive. We have a matter of decades to protect future generations, and we need to get the entire planet to zero-carbon emissions."

In San Francisco, officials have vowed to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and 100 percent by 2030.

"It's important for us not to hide all of the facts about climate change," said Tyrone Jue, environmental adviser to San Francisco's mayor. "You have an EPA that is systemically removing public information and research pointing to the evidence of climate change to further their own agenda. This is the time we need to come together to make sure we are sending the signal that it is not OK."

(c)2017 the San Francisco Chronicle

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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