The Environmental Protection Agency kept three scientists from speaking at an event Monday in a move condemned by researchers and Democratic members of Congress as an attempt by the agency to silence a discussion of climate change.
The scientists were scheduled to discuss a report on the health of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary. Among the findings in the 500-page report is that climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level and fish.
The EPA didn’t explain why the scientists were told not to speak, but said in a statement that the agency supports the program that published the document, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, with a $600,000 annual grant. The EPA is the sole funder of the program.
“EPA scientists are attending; they simply are not presenting. It is not an EPA conference,” agency spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in a statement Monday.
Several people involved in the report and members of the state’s congressional delegation likened it to scientific censorship. They cited EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has rejected the scientific consensus on climate change.
During a news conference releasing the report Monday, John King, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and the chairman of the science advisory committee for the estuary program, compared the decision to the opening move of a chess game.
“It’s the opening gambit. Can we censor science and get away with it? I would say I hope not,” King said, adding a message that he directed to Pruitt. “Our job is to inform policy. Hopefully, it becomes good policy. Let us do our job, without fear of losing our jobs.”
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said it made him sick to his stomach that federal scientists would not be allowed to discuss climate change in public.
“Because this was going to be about climate change ... they simply don’t want to allow those words to be said, and they don’t want people from their agency to be caught saying them,” he said. “It’s just been a constant effort at trying to silence conversation about climate change.”
Thomas Borden, program director of the estuary program, said Wayne Munns, director of EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division, called him 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. Munns did not give him an explanation, but Borden said he understood that the decision came from EPA headquarters in Washington.