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Climate change summit canceled by CDC amid uncertainty of a Trump presidency

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Climate change is a public health issue

CDC headquarters by James Gathany

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly canceled a climate change summit scheduled for next month in Atlanta, according to E&E News, a trade publication for energy and environment professionals. The news comes a few days after Donald Trump, who wants to roll back Obama’s environmental policies, was sworn in as president.

Those scheduled to speak at the conference received an email saying the summit was canceled, according to E&E News, which obtained a copy of the email. "We are currently exploring options so that the Summit may take place later in the year," CDC officials wrote. The Verge confirmed that the summit was canceled through the American Public Health Association (APHA), one of the organizations that partnered with the CDC for the conference.

“We were notified just recently,” Mandi Yohn, an APHA communications specialist told The Verge, “in the last week or so.”

In a statement to The Verge, the CDC said that it began notifying participants on December 22nd, 2016. The agency didn’t say the summit was canceled, but only postponed. “We are exploring options to reschedule the meeting while considering budget priorities for fiscal year 2017, including the current continuing resolution, and potential overlap with an APHA conference on the same topic also being held later in 2017,” the statement reads. The CDC didn’t answer a question regarding the reasoning behind rescheduling the summit.

Under Obama, the CDC started looking at climate change as a public health issue, working with states and cities to address health problems related to heat waves and pollution. Health officials see climate change as a threat because warming temperatures help boost outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, as mosquitoes expand their range. Heavy rainfalls and flooding can also help spread water-borne diseases like cholera.

The Climate and Health Summit was scheduled for February 14th–16th in Atlanta, where the CDC is headquartered. The event was supposed to “showcase the state of the science on climate and health, adaptation efforts through interagency collaboration, and communication and stakeholder engagement strategies,” according to a flier posted by the National Indian Health Board, another of the CDC’s partners for the event.

The summit’s cancellation did not surprise some former CDC directors, who told E&E News that the agency has a history of backing down from certain issues for fear of political reprisal. President Trump, who’s called climate change a “hoax” and appointed a climate change denier as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, vowed to dismantle Obama’s environmental policies meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s likely that CDC officials see climate change as "not an immediately winnable battle" under the new administration, according to Richard Jackson, a director of the CDC's Center for Environmental Health from 1994 to 2004. The summit’s cancelation could signal that the agency is not willing to take aggressive action on climate change issues.

“As the nation's public health agency, we need CDC to be fully engaged in protecting our health from climate change,” Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, who was scheduled to talk at the summit, wrote in an email to The Verge. “Politics is politics, but protecting the health of our citizens is one of our government's most important obligations to us.”

Update January 23, 2017 2:50 PM ET & 4:45 PM ET: The story was first updated to include Ed Maibach’s comment, and then to include the CDC’s statement.