The EPA Stopped Three Agency Scientists From Talking About Climate Change at a Conference

The agency has not explained why the scientists were pulled, but the move has scientists worried.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the EPA, on Sept. 19 in New York City.

Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

The Environmental Protection Agency has blocked three scheduled discussions of climate change by agency scientists at a conference on Monday, according to reporting by the New York Times.

EPA officials have not explained why the three agency scientists were pulled from the conference, but the move has raised alarm among those who believe the agency is silencing scientists conducting climate change research.

The last-minute cancellation was reported Sunday, the day before the start of the State of the Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed Workshop in Providence, Rhode Island, where scientists are to gather to discuss the health of Narragansett Bay. The conference’s hosting organization, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, is funded partly through the EPA’s National Estuary Program.

One of the scientists cut from the program was scheduled to give the keynote address, and the Times reported that she was planning to speak about climate change “and other factors affecting the health of the estuary.” The program now lists the keynote address, to be given by a different scientist, as “Narragansett Bay as a Sentinel Estuary.” The other two scientists removed from the program were to speak about “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.”

All three of the scientists contributed to the 500-page report on the state of the bay, which was issued Monday. The report concluded that climate change is causing air and water temperatures to warm, precipitation to change in “intensity and seasonality,” and sea levels to rise. “These stressors are already causing ecological responses,” the report reads. “Impacts of climate change on the cities, towns, and ecosystem of Narragansett Bay are projected to intensify, such as increased flooding and erosion of coastal properties, loss of salt marshes, and potentially more beach closures due to pathogens.”

The EPA said in a statement that the EPA scientists are still attending the conference: “They simply are not presenting; it is not an EPA conference.”

At a morning news conference, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who has in the past loudly criticized EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, condemned the EPA for blocking its scientists from speaking. According to the Times, the state’s congressional delegation, which is composed entirely of Democrats, was scheduled to attend the news conference.

The spokesman who confirmed the cancellation to the Times, John Konkus, was formerly a Trump campaign operative in Florida, the Times reported. All EPA grant solicitations in recent months have gone through his office for vetting, according to reporting by E&E News. The agency said Konkus was placed in the position to “ensure [the grants] adhere to the Trump administration’s goals and policies and the EPA’s back-to-basics agenda,” according to E&E News.

Pruitt’s mission to undo environmental regulations during his time at the administration has been largely successful, including a recent move to repeal the Clean Power Plan. The nation’s estuaries, such as Narragansett Bay, might also be hit by his proposed budget, which would eliminate the National Estuary Program.

Pruitt’s leadership of the EPA has led to widespread criticism for climate denialism harmful beyond his personal record: He has been leading a “formal initiative to challenge mainstream climate science.” Since Trump’s inauguration, the EPA’s website has been largely wiped of references to climate change, and Pruitt, who before becoming the EPA administrator worked alongside fossil-fuel companies to sue the EPA, has consistently defended the coal industry and refused to link carbon dioxide emissions to global warming.