December 6, 2017

EPA Responds to New England Members of Congress on Silencing of Scientists

Senators, Representatives put Pruitt on notice

Washington, DC – With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledging fault, a group of federal lawmakers offered a forceful warning today never to repeat a troubling incident earlier this fall.  In October, the EPA withdrew its scientists from an important workshop on the health of Narragansett Bay and the threats posed by climate change and other environmental factors.  After a group of New England members of Congress demanded an explanation, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt responded with a letter assuring the members of Congress that “[p]rocedures have been put in place to prevent such an occurrence in the future.”  Pruitt also said the EPA would continue to fulfill its obligations under the National Estuary Program (NEP), which helps to protect estuaries like the Narragansett Bay.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward J. Markey (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), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Bill Keating (D-MA) issued the following joint statement on Administrator Pruitt’s letter:

“Americans rely on the EPA for accurate science to keep their communities healthy and safe, and to plan for serious environmental threats to their economies and way of life.  After the EPA’s reckless and shortsighted decision to muzzle its own scientists from presenting to the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, we appreciate Administrator Pruitt’s commitment never to let this happen again.  We will hold him to that commitment.  This administration has stocked the EPA with industry lobbyists and climate deniers.  They include people like John Konkus, who brags about scrubbing all of the agency’s grants for the words ‘climate change.’  These rigidly ideological political appointees have no place in deciding whether the American people can access the science done on their behalf.”

The State of the Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed workshop took place in Providence, RI, on October 23, and centered on the release of a 500-page report detailing the health of the Bay, problems it faces, and the progress made to address these issues.  The EPA, which helped fund the research through its administration of the NEP, was scheduled to send three EPA-affiliated scientists to present material they had contributed to the report and share their expertise on the challenges facing the Bay.  Just days before the workshop and without explanation, the EPA barred the scientists from presenting. 

The EPA’s actions were a “blatant example of the scientific censorship we all suspected was going to start being enforced at EPA” under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership, chair of the science advisory committee of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program John King told the New York Times.  According to the Times’s reporting, at least one of the EPA scientists had planned to address climate change and related factors in her presentation.  “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,” King added.

“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 wrote in response to the incident.  “Neither do we.”

A copy of Administrator Pruitt’s letter to the members is available here.


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