DOE Denies it has Policy to Remove “Climate Change” from Agency Materials

A researcher from Northeastern University is speaking out after she was asked by the Energy Department to remove all references to climate change from her application for a federal grant.

(E&E News) – Jennifer Bowen’s grant proposal was for a project on “how environmental factors such as climate change affect the ecology of salt marshes, which serve as an important carbon sink.”

“I have been asked to contact you to update the wording in your proposal abstract to remove words such as ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change,’” an official from the department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory wrote to Bowen. “This is being asked as we have to meet the President’s budget language restrictions and we don’t want to make any changes without your knowledge or consent.”

Bowen’s Facebook post, where she initially shared the letter from the department, has since been deleted, though others on social media shared screen grabs of the message.

“I do think it is important to make clear that at no time was I asked to change the research scope of my proposed project or modify the contents of the proposal in any other way, with the exception of the language that was to be posted on the government’s website,” Bowen said. Further, Bowen wanted to make the letter public “to show the hurdles that scientific inquiry faces given the change in administration.”

Not the only one: Another ecologist, University of Arizona associate professor Scott Saleska, received a similar letter from the same lab on his grant to “study how permafrost is affected by decomposing plants.”

The Energy Department’s response: “There is no departmental-wide policy banning the term ‘climate change’ from being used in DOE materials. That is completely false,” according to Energy Department spokesperon Shaylyn Hynes.  That may be true – any applicant can submit any application using any phrase they choose – but will the application be considered for funding … that question remains unanswered.

The Department of Energy (DOE) denied that it’s banning the use of “climate change” in materials after a public letter alleged scientific censorship and sparked a Twitter storm.

Jennifer Bowen, an associate professor at Northeastern University in Boston, posted a letter on Facebook showing a DOE official asking her to remove the words “global warming” and “climate change” from her research proposal on nutrient loading in salt marsh carbon sequestration.

The DOE official, whose name is not shown, allegedly said the department wants the language scrapped to “meet the President’s budget language restrictions.”

“This just happened,” Bowen wrote in a post alongside the letter. “I’m just going to leave that here for people to ponder.”

Bowen could not be reached directly for comment, but she and Northeastern University confirmed that the letter was legitimate.

“Yes. I confirm the email is real. Although it should not be a “shocker.” similar actions reported at Dept. of Ag,” Bowen wrote on Twitter, linking to a report in The Guardian this month. The Department of Agriculture later denied telling employees to avoid use of the term climate change (ClimateWire, August 8)

Scientists said that Bowen is a well-respected biologist and that the referenced grant, which included detailed tracking numbers, appears legitimate.

DOE said it could not verify the letter without more details on the sender, but strongly denied systematic censorship.

“There is no departmental-wide policy banning the term ‘climate change’ from being used in DOE materials. That is completely false,” DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said.

The letter refers to the abstract of a grant proposal that originally included phrasing about salt marshes contributing to greenhouse gas release and climate change. According to the post, Bowen said she responded to the unnamed DOE official by excising the climate language.

“I understand you are just doing your job, so I will refrain from comment,” Bowen wrote.

The letter played into frustrations in the scientific community about Trump’s climate and science policies. The administration has not yet appointed a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, prompting a wave of recent public letters from the scientific community.

The posting also triggered thousands of comments online ranging from sympathy with the DOE staff to questions about whether the letter amounted to censorship. Others weighed in with creative ways to reword climate change and global warming.

“Hey American Scientists. This should send a chill down your spine,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann tweeted.

Some DOE career staffers said the incident follows multiple cases of inappropriate line editing of scientific documents by political appointees without relevant training.

Other DOE scientists at the national labs said they had not experienced similar censorship. One lab scientist expressed “shock” at the Bowen letter.

In January, then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz released a scientific integrity policy aiming to protect scientists from censorship (E&E News PM, Jan. 11).

Since then, the Trump administration has removed mentions of climate change and clean energy from websites and blocked scientists from attending conferences, said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The nonprofit recently started a “science protection project” to link federal scientists and their allies with attorneys to “help bring to light actions that diminish the role of independent science.”

In June, DOE also shuttered its international climate office (E&E News PM, June 15).

Rosenberg said it would be “bizarre” if a DOE official asked to remove climate language specifically, particularly since the president’s budget request has to go through Congress.

“It just seems really odd censorship,” he said.


Christa Marshall and Hannah Northey are E&E News reporters.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at

For the original story click here to access from Greenwire.

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