‘More rigs, less regs:’ AAAS experts predict Trump policies

By Teresa Manring

The Trump administration’s stance on reversing environmental regulations, key climate policies such as the Paris Accord and the Affordable Care Act is alarming many scientists and policymakers gathered in Boston for an international science conference.

A panel of analysts predicted “Science Policy in Transition: What to Expect in 2017 and Beyond” at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences 2017 Annual Meeting. Panelists focused on challenges but also opportunities in climate and energy policy, health programs and technology and innovation.

Funding for scientific research and development is vulnerable under the new administration, said William Bonvillian, a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bonvillian predicted that tax cuts and increased defense and health care spending will result in cuts to R&D.

“We’re going to need to tell the story that R&D is actually a key part of the solution,” he said to a packed auditorium. “But the challenge, this time, in telling that story is going to be even greater than usual.”

Protecting facts and free expression came up during the Q & A.

Scientists and the media must defend actual facts and so-called “alternative facts” must be monitored and challenged, said Atul Arya, senior vice president for Energy Insight at IHS Markit.

“Science and technology is about facts. Facts are our friends. And if we can’t agree on the facts, then we have a really significant challenge,” Arya said. “It’s a very important and difficult job for us to make sure that facts remain facts and not alternative facts.” 

One person in the audience asked the panel about the “gag order” that was reportedly placed on employees at the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. Panel members urged attendees and members of the media to be patient in this area.

“The so-called gag orders put in place are not at all unprecedented,” said Robert Cook-Deegan, a professor for the future of innovation at Arizona State University. It’s not uncommon to refrain from talking about new policy positions when there’s a change in administration, especially when there’s also a change of party, he added.

But panel moderator  Joanne Carney of the AAAS acknowledged the concerns of those in the room—as well as the scientific community at large—that they might not be able to share their research and speak freely. “We are monitoring it,” she said. “We know that there’s definitely a concern among the community.”

Climate and Energy Policy

The Trump administration’s energy policy could be summed up as “More rigs, less regs,” said Arya, who discussed climate change and energy policy. Under Trump’s “America First Energy Plan,” Arya predicted that gas and oil use would rise, and that renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power would also continue rise.

AAAS policy panel
Atul Arya (left), senior vp of Energy Insight at IHS Markit, discusses climate and energy policy in the new Administration at the AAAS conference in Boston. William Bonvillian (right), a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicted less fudnig for research and development. (Teresa Manring/Medill)

And despite the administration’s pledge to “revive America’s coal industry,” Arya predicted that the coal industry would continue to decline.

Health Policy

The repeal and replace move on the Affordable Care Act is going to dominate discussion about health care and health care policy in the next year, said Cook-Deegan.

“The repeal part of ‘repeal and replace’ is a whole lot easier than the replace part,” Cook-Degan said. The Republican alternatives to the ACA were designed at a time when everyone knew they wouldn’t be passed, he said, suggesting that these plans aren’t viable replacements.

“It’s going to have to be replaced by something because that’s a lot of dollars, a lot of jobs and a lot of livelihoods that are at stake,” he said.

The panel also stressed that much remains unknown in terms of what will happen in the next four years.

“The way I’m seeing the world is ‘expect the unexpected,’’ Arya said.

Photo at top: Flickr/photo by Jeff Warren