Trump allies target NOAA climate research

By Scott Waldman | 04/10/2024 06:19 AM EDT

A planning document for a second Trump administration also recommends the National Weather Service commercialize its forecasting operations.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at an April 2 campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at an April 2 campaign event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Paul Sancya/AP

Allies of former President Donald Trump don’t just want to muzzle federal climate science if he wins a second term — they also want to upend the agencies that fuel such research.

The strategy is outlined in a governing playbook known as Project 2025 that was written by the Heritage Foundation and dozens of other conservative organizations. It’s designed to serve as a road map for a second Trump administration, and it includes suggestions such as using an executive order to reshape “climate change research programs.”

Adjacent to this effort is a push to scramble the broad government apparatus that collects climate and weather information.


The Project 2025 report takes aim at NOAA, suggests the National Weather Service commercialize its forecasting operations and says information from the National Hurricane Center should be “presented neutrally, without adjustments intended to support any one side in the climate debate.”

Reorganizing NOAA is a key component of these plans. The Project 2025 report says NOAA should be “broken up and downsized” because “its current organization corrupts its useful functions.”

The document describes the agency’s office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research as the “source of much of NOAA’s climate alarmism” and says the “preponderance of its climate-change research should be disbanded.”

NOAA did not respond to a request for comment.

The Project 2025 report is less blunt on the other recommendations, but they align with perennial conservative ambitions and complaints.

The plan says the National Weather Service should “focus on its data-gathering services” and “fully commercialize its forecasting operations.” That’s in line with a long-standing push by some conservatives to foster greater private sector involvement in weather forecasting.

The National Hurricane Center’s mission is centered on informing and warning the public about potentially deadly storms, and as part of that work, it has connected the effects of climate change to hurricane intensity. The brushback it gets in the Project 2025 playbook speaks to past insinuations from Republicans that government agencies are manipulating data to make climate change appear worse.

The Heritage Foundation, which is leading to the Project 2025 effort, did not respond to two requests for comment.

Thomas Gilman, who wrote the Project 2025 chapter outlining the proposals, refused to answer questions when reached on his cellphone.

“I’d rather not discuss it with the press,” he said, before ending the call.

‘Not just unhinged’

The focus by Project 2025 on NOAA and its climate programs mirror concerns raised recently by a handful of congressional Republicans. Conservative lawmakers led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have questioned climate data that has been gathered at hundreds of NOAA weather stations across the country.

In a letter last month to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad, Lee and three other Republicans suggested NOAA data keeping was flawed and that it was being manipulated to increase agency funding levels.

“Your agency presents its climate reports as a matter of scientific fact, but we now know that the data is not collected in a rigorously controlled scientific environment,” the lawmakers wrote. “‘Faking it until you make it’ has become the mantra of the Biden administration’s climate policy.”

Lee was joined on the letter by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) and Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.). Only Lee’s office replied to a request for comment.

Lee spokesperson Billy Gribbin said the lawmakers want “increased Congressional oversight on NOAA’s data collection process, because the American people shouldn’t be suffering under policies that are rooted in junk science.”

The lawmaker’s effort is based on a misleading report from the Heartland Institute, an advocacy group that has received funding from fossil fuels companies. The Heartland report, which is cited in the lawmakers’ letter, claims the government’s method of collecting climate-related data has been compromised because the location of its data collection stations is in cities and therefore is exaggerating temperature records.

NOAA uses sophisticated equipment that accounts for the urban heat island effect, and its data is peer-reviewed by independent scientists. Its data is widely used by researchers across the globe.

The efforts by Lee and his colleagues is part of a yearslong effort by conservative lawmakers to not just block climate policy but also discredit climate science itself. For years, lawmakers such as former Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and former Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) falsely accused NOAA of faking climate data to make rising temperatures appear hotter.

“The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want,” Smith said in 2015.

In Congress, conservative lawmakers have been aided in their quest to attack climate data by a relatively small group of researchers with legitimate academic credentials who claim the world’s premiere science agencies are purposely misleading the public about global warming.

One is David Legates, a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware who has received funding from fossil fuel companies and served as a senior NOAA official in the Trump administration. Legates, who could return to a senior science job in a second Trump administration, helped write the NOAA chapter of Project 2025.

Legates has a long history of attacking historical climate data. He has described climate policy as a form of societal control and claimed a warming world would benefit society. Legates had to resign from his post at Trump’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy after he attempted to publish discredited climate claims as official government documents.

Legates did not respond to requests for comment.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but the campaign has described Project 2025 as suggestions from allies.

James Singer, spokesperson for President Joe Biden’s campaign, said the Project 2025 proposals “are not just unhinged, they are dangerous.”

“Americans need federal agencies like NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to be reliable to keep themselves and their loved ones safe,” Singer said.

“But this is what Americans can expect from Donald Trump, who as President abandoned the NSC’s pandemic unit, suggested nuking hurricanes, lied about storms paths, said injecting Americans with bleach would kill sickness, and denied basic climate science,” Singer added. “It’s no surprise his allies’ Project 2025 agenda builds on that extreme legacy.”