New England members of Congress demand explanation from EPA over silencing of scientists in Rhode Island“We write to request information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in cancelling planned presentations by three EPA-affiliated scientists in Rhode Island,” begins a letter from 11 members of Congress to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a Trump-appointee and climate change denier. The letter is in response to the last last weeks Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP) workshop at Save the
Published on November 1, 2017
By Steve Ahlquist
“We write to request information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in cancelling planned presentations by three EPA-affiliated scientists in Rhode Island,” begins a letter from 11 members of Congress to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a Trump-appointee and climate change denier.
The letter is in response to the last last weeks Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP) workshop at Save the Bay in Providence. News of the cancellation broke in the New York Times on Sunday, on Monday 60 people showed up to silently protest the EPA’s action. All of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation were in attendance at the workshop and all four signed the letter demanding an explanation.
In the letter, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Richard Neal (D-MA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), David Cicilline (D-RI), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Seth Moulton (D-MA) asked Pruitt how he would react if the federal government silenced experts from his home state on a topic of the utmost importance to local communities’ health and economic wellbeing.
“You would not have taken kindly to Washington bureaucrats telling scientists in Oklahoma they couldn’t speak with Oklahoma organizations to come up with ‘neighborhood solutions’ to better protect public health and a critical economic asset,” the members write. “Neither do we.”
“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s and Massachusetts’ most important economic assets,” the members note in the letter. “The [Narragansett Bay Estuary Program] and other environmental organizations in the Narragansett Bay watershed have long relied upon the expertise of EPA scientists to provide the data and analysis needed to plan for its future… If EPA scientists are not allowed to participate in a workshop discussing the results of scientific research because that workshop included a discussion of climate change, that begs the question whether EPA will censor NEP grantees from discussing climate change…”
Here’s the full letter:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
- Were Autumn Oczkowski, Rose Martin, and Emily Shumchenia prohibited from presenting their work at the NBEP’s workshop because it addressed climate change? Were there any other reasons why they were prohibited from participating in the workshop? Did that decision reflect official EPA policy? If so, please provide a copy of the relevant policy.
- Who made that decision? At what level was it approved? Please provide all communications related to that decision, and any documents that reference the NBEP October 23 workshop.
- Please provide all communications between Autumn Oczkowski, Rose Martin, and Emily Shumchenia or any other representative of the Atlantic Ecology Division and (1) Region 1 EPA Headquarters and (2) EPA’s main headquarters in Washington, D.C., related to the participation of any EPA employee’s or contractor’s participation in NBEP’s October 23, 2017 press conference and workshop, or the EPA research to be presented at that conference.
- EPA spokesman John Konkus was quoted as saying “EPA scientists are attending, they simply are not presenting, it is not an EPA conference.” Is it the policy of EPA to prohibit its scientists from presenting their work at anyplace other than “an EPA conference”? Please provide a copy of EPA’s policy governing the attendance and participation of its scientists at conferences and workshops, including how EPA defines an “EPA conference.”
- Going forward, will EPA scientists be able to contribute to the work of the NBEP (and other NEPs), the recommendations put forth in The State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed, and the broader protection and restoration of the Narragansett Bay? Will there be any subject-matter limitations on what EPA scientists can research or discuss? If so, please provide a list of forbidden topics.
- The Washington Post has previously reported that Mr. Konkus, who is deputy associate administrator in EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, “reviews every award the agency gives out” and “has told staff that he is on the lookout for ‘the double C-word’ — climate change….”
- The New York Times reported that “political officials from E.P.A. headquarters in Washington spent two days last week in the Rhode Island office reviewing the lab’s work.” Was that a regularly scheduled review of the lab’s work? If not, why was it performed? Please identify the officials and provide all guidance related to the determination of research topics and priorities at EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, including but not limited to the Atlantic Ecology Division in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
- Will NEPs that seek to address the effects of climate change be penalized in any way? Please provide a copy of the criteria by which NEP annual work plans and other CCMP-related submissions will be reviewed and evaluated by EPA.
We request the courtesy of a response to this letter no later than November 17, 2107.
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