Three Environmental Protection Agency scientists who play a critical role in a Rhode Island-based estuary program are being barred from participating in an associated conference today, according to The New York Times.
The “State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed program in Providence” is designed to discuss new research that explores how the region is being affected by climate change and other factors.
One of the EPA scientists, Autumn Oczkowski, was scheduled to give the keynote address. Two of her colleagues — Rose Martin, a postdoctoral fellow and Emily Shumchenia, a consultant — were slated to appear on a panel called “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.
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All three have been prevented from speaking at the conference, the Times has reported, in what critics claim is part of a much broader trend of muzzling the agency’s research into climate change.
“It’s definitely a blatant example of the scientific censorship we all suspected was going to start being enforced at E.P.A.,” John King, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island who works on the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, told The New York Times. “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.”
The EPA, meanwhile, says that the the scientists aren’t speaking because it’s not the government’s conference.
“EPA scientists are attending, they simply are not presenting, it is not an EPA conference,” EPA spokesman John Konkus said in an email to The Washington Post.
The interference was revealed Oct. 20, according to The Times, when the program’s director, Tom Borden, received a call from the Wayne Munns, the director of the Atlantic ecology division of the EPA’s Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, telling him that the three scientists would no longer be participating.
Earlier in the week, two officials from the agency visited the program’s office to review the lab’s work, seemingly leading to this decision.
Under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, the EPA has reoriented its approach to climate change. References to climate change have been scrubbed from its website, regulations meant to limit and manage climate change have been dismantled or weakened, and the agency’s staff has been thwarted from doing their jobs, as happened in Rhode Island.
The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program receives about $600,000 annually from the EPA’s National Estuary Program, which has a budget of $26 million and strives to work with local communities to preserve the robust ecosystems found in these bodies of water.
More than 2 million people in Rhode Island and Massachusetts depend on the Narragansett Bay watershed for fishing, agriculture, and ecosystems. It’s the largest estuary in New England.
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Pruitt’s proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate the program entirely. Altogether, the budget proposal aims to eliminate more than 3,200 scientists across a broad range of departments, especially those that relate to climate change.
Before joining the EPA, Pruitt was a staunch opponent of the agency, filing more than a dozen lawsuits against it. Many critics believe that he has maintained that same anti-regulatory approach and is gutting the agency from the inside in ways that are having immediate effects on the country.
As the senator from Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse, who is speaking at the event in Rhode Island, told The Washington Post in a statement.
“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future. Whatever you think about climate change, this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer,” he said. “Muzzling our leading scientists benefits no one.”