On April 19, 2017, somebody replaced most of the information on the Interior Department's main climate change page. The agency made no announcement of this, but a look at the page's source code reveals the date on which it was last modified.
Donald Trump has made a point to put climate change on the backburner. The President's mulish defiance of climate science is no secret—his Cabinet, too, is similarly opposed to the fact that global warming is real, and deserves our attention.
Slowly, we've watched as Trump has hacked away at climate policies. Most visibly, he's forced environmental agencies, like the Interior, to betray their own positions on climate. The future of the agency, which manages one-fifth of the land in the United States, remains uncertain.
But if the Interior's website is any indication of its fate, things aren't looking great.
This is what the Interior's climate change page looked like on February 26, 2017.
What was once a robust overview of the Interior's climate change priorities is now a pedestrian paragraph about the types of land the agency protects. Gone are the mentions of rising sea levels, worsening wildfires, and threatened wildlife. In fact, the entire page, which is just 101-words-long, only uses the term "climate change" once.
The revised page now links to the climate change pages of other environmental agencies. One of the links, which should have directed to the Bureau of Land Management, is dead.
We reached out to the Interior for comment, but did not immediately hear back. It's unclear who requested the changes, and why.
Since Trump's inauguration, public-facing climate information has come under attack. The White House website no longer talks about climate change. In February, facts about carbon pollution and references to Obama-era climate policies were struck from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) website. And significant changes to the Interior's fracking regulation pages were also detected by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a group that monitors updates to federal websites under Trump.
"We've seen changes like this happening at the Department of Energy and the EPA, where mentions of climate change have been removed and language has been substantially changed," Toly Rinberg, who is part of EDGI's website tracking team, told me.
It's impossible to tell right now whether these changes are anything nefarious. But we do know that Zinke supported Trump as he rolled back climate policies before an audience of coal miners last month, saying, "our nation can't run on pixie dust and hope, and the last eight years showed that." And it's not so ridiculous to view his leadership as a proxy for Trump's own anti-science, pro-fossil fuel ideologies.
Zinke is often portrayed as the wildcard among Trump's appointees, since his views on climate change weren't always so obtuse. But functionally, the former Montana congressman has upheld the President's drill first, ask questions later approach to managing public lands. Just this week, he launched a controversial review of national monument designations, which many conservationists see as an assault on federal land protections.
"Although Zinke is perhaps one of the President's more moderate Cabinet choices," Kirsten Stade, advocacy director at the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told me, "he has made public his desire to increase coal, oil, and gas production on public lands."
"It is no surprise that his Department of the Interior would prefer public attention to climate change would simply go away."
Update: 4:33pm ET
An Interior Department spokesperson provided Motherboard with the following statement: "As is standard with a change in administration, the Department's website has been updated periodically over the past few months to include additional priorities of the Department under new leadership, and we will continue to update the website to keep people informed. Along with public lands jobs, stewardship, and other topics, climate change is highlighted on the website, where links to the various bureaus' work on the subjects are easily available."
In response to the Interior's website changes, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who is Vice Ranking Member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said that Zinke, along with the agency he oversees, "must take climate change seriously."
"Through its control of resource extraction," Beyer added, the Interior "also shapes the US impact on climate. All of these effects are related, and I urge Secretary Zinke, who was reasonable when he served with me on the Natural Resources Committee, to be honest in his assessment of the impacts of climate change, and as open and diligent in his response as he can be."