The scientists were expected to discuss in Providence on Monday a report on the health of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary. The EPA did not explain exactly why the scientists were told not to.
“EPA supports the Narragansett Bay Estuary and just this month provided the program a $600,000 grant,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in a statement on Monday. “EPA scientists are attending, they simply are not presenting. It is not an EPA conference.”
Thomas Borden, program director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, which published the report, said Wayne Munns, director of the EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division, called him on Friday afternoon to say two staffers who work out of its research lab in the town of Narragansett had been advised that they could not attend on Monday.
Munns did not give him an explanation, but Borden said he understood that the decision came from EPA headquarters in Washington.
One of the staffers, Autumn Oczkowski, was scheduled to give the keynote speech at an afternoon workshop. Another, Rose Martin, was scheduled to speak on a panel.
“We’ve been working with more than five researchers in that lab who have contributed substantial elements to our report,” Borden said.
After Munns’ call, he said, he checked with a third researcher who consults for the EPA, Emily Shumchenia, and who was scheduled to participate in Monday’s event.
“I advised her, you should check with your folks and see if you should attend,” Borden said. “She was advised by EPA region one that she should not attend.”
The report finds that climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level and fish.
Borden said scientists from a variety of agencies and institutions had been working for years on the 500-page technical document, the purpose of which is to examine the condition of the bay and the trends with data on 24 environmental indicators. Those include stressors such as population, and also climate change, such as warming temperatures, increased precipitation and increased sea level rise.
“It’s a comprehensive scientific update of the status of the bay,” he said. “It’s not a policy document. It’s a scientific report. It doesn’t propose policy changes.”
All four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation were scheduled to attend a news conference on the report on Monday morning. Democratic senator Jack Reed criticized the EPA move, which was first reported by the New York Times.
“Muzzling EPA scientists won’t do anything to address climate change,” Reed said. “While the Trump administration tries to suppress the facts, the American people are seeing and feeling the real world impacts.
“We need to work on a bipartisan basis to reduce pollution and emissions, and this type of hostility toward science inhibits rather than furthers discussion and action.”
The estuary program gets all its funding from the EPA.
John King, a University of Rhode Island professor of oceanography who chairs the science advisory committee of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, told the Times: “It’s definitely a blatant example of the scientific censorship we all suspected was going to start being enforced at EPA.
“They don’t believe in climate change, so I think what they’re trying to do is stifle discussions of the impacts of climate change.”
Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general made EPA administrator by Donald Trump, has questioned accepted climate change science.
Trump, who has among other actions has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate accord and scrapped Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, famously said climate change was a “hoax” invented by China.