Top climate change scientist quits USDA, says Trump administration tried to bury his study

A top climate scientist is quitting the Department of Agriculture (USDA), accusing the Trump administration of attempting to bury a report he authored about rising carbon dioxide levels affecting rice yields, Politico reported Monday. 

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who has worked at the USDA for over 20 years, told the outlet that department officials not only questioned the findings of the study but also tried to suppress press coverage of it.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don't agree with someone's political views,” he said in an interview. “That's so sad. I can't even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

Ziska's study found that rising carbon dioxide levels were causing rice to lose nutrients.

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A USDA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that objections to promoting Ziska's rice study were based on scientific disagreement, not political considerations.

“This was a joint decision by ARS national program leaders — all career scientists — not to send out a press release on this paper,” the spokesperson said, citing three concerns with the data used in the report. 

"USDA is not suppressing climate change research," they added.

The move comes as USDA is already losing a large portion of its scientists and research staff as it uproots two research-focused agencies from Washington, D.C. to the Kansas City area. Nearly two-thirds of staff have said they will not make the move.

Ziska is not the first administration official to resign over claims that the administration is censoring climate science.

Last week, an intelligence analyst at the State Department said he left his post after officials blocked his congressional testimony about the national security implications of climate change.

A National Park Service (NPS) employee had stepped forward just a week before, alleging she lost her job after refusing to remove mentions of the human causes of climate change from a peer-reviewed paper before it was published.

The Department of the Interior, which houses NPS, is also working to move many of its high-level employees, much like USDA. Some staff will move to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo. while other D.C.-based staff will be spread across the country.