But subtle changes to government pages directed at children had so far escaped notice. Last year, the kids’ page drew about 950,000 page views from more than 410,000 unique visitors, according to the EIA.
The EIA, which is part of the Department of Energy, bills itself as a “statistical and analytical agency” that distributes “independent and impartial energy information” for use in policymaking and in educating the public. According to the EIA’s website, the agency’s “data, analyses, and forecasts are independent of approval by any other officer or employee of the U.S. government.”
On the campaign trail, Trump appealed to key segments of working-class voters by promising to bring back coal jobs. The flagging industry has faced steep competition from cleaner and often cheaper natural gas, as well as renewable sources of energy.
Trump’s “America First” energy plan, as touted on the White House website, affirms the administration’s commitment “to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” The plan also promises to tap into domestic reserves of oil, shale and natural gas, while at the same time rolling back “burdensome regulations” on the energy industry.
This month, President Trump signed off on the repeal of an Obama-era regulation that would have limited coal companies’ ability to dump potentially toxic mining debris into waterways. The Interior Department had estimated that the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, but opponents of the rule said it would only further harm the already-struggling coal industry.
“These websites are actually giving us clues as to what this administration is going to do, much more so than the very public media show that we are getting through the White House press secretary, through President Trump tweeting or through Kellyanne Conway on Meet the Press,” said Jennifer Wingard, an associate professor of rhetoric at the University of Houston. “It is intentional, these shifts in words are meaningful, and it’s smart to pay attention to them.”
The EIA’s Office of Communications manages the Energy Kids page and aims to update the content with the most recent data, according to Jonathan Cogan, a spokesman for the agency. The office also tries to review all of the pages at least once a year, he said.
“If you’ve seen any changes to it, it’s just part of the ongoing update process,” Cogan said. “When a trend is up in the previous years, and then all of a sudden there’s a downturn, you have to change the wording in the sentence to make the sentence fit the numbers. That’s the only type of thing we would have been doing here.”
However, many of the changes since Trump’s inauguration involve wholesale deletions of older data, as opposed to updates, as well as language edits that seem unrelated to changing trends. When asked about these specific alterations to the Energy Kids webpages, Cogan said that “for the most part, the information that you talk about being deleted is still there, either in a different place or worded slightly differently.”