Environment

E.P.A. Cancels Talk on Climate Change by Agency Scientists

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Monday’s conference is designed to draw attention to the health of Narragansett Bay, the largest estuary in New England and a key to the region’s tourism and fishing industries. Rhode Island’s entire congressional delegation, all Democrats, will attend a morning news conference. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, an outspoken critic of Mr. Pruitt, will be among the speakers.

Scientists there will unveil the report on the state of the bay, which E.P.A. scientists helped research and write. Among the findings will be that climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level and fish in and around the estuary.

Autumn Oczkowski, a research ecologist at the E.P.A.’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory Atlantic Ecology Division in Rhode Island, was scheduled to give the keynote address. Colleagues familiar with her speech said she intended to address climate change and other factors affecting the health of the estuary.

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Rose Martin, a postdoctoral fellow at the same E.P.A. laboratory and Emily Shumchenia, an E.P.A. consultant, were scheduled to speak on an afternoon panel entitled “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.”

“The report is about trends. It’s kind of hard not to talk about climate change when you’re talking about the future of the Narragansett Bay,” Mr. King said.

The agenda and speaker lineup was emailed to attendees on October 4. Tom Borden, the program director of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, said he received a call on Friday from Wayne Munns, director of the Atlantic ecology division of the E.P.A.’s Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, telling him the three scientists would not be allowed to speak.

“I was not really provided with a clear explanation,” Mr. Borden said. “He advised me that it was the decision of the E.P.A. Office of Public Affairs.”

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Several Rhode Island scientists who work closely with the regional lab said political officials from E.P.A. headquarters in Washington spent two days last week in the Rhode Island office reviewing the lab’s work.

Mr. Munns confirmed that E.P.A. officials would not be participating in the meeting but did not explain why. Mr. Konkus, the agency spokesman, did not respond to questions about whether the conference’s focus on climate change was a factor in canceling the appearances.

He said in an email that E.P.A. scientists may attend the program, but not the morning news conference. He later clarified saying, “E.P.A. staff will not be formally presenting at either.”

Since August, all E.P.A. awards and grant solicitations have gone through Mr. Konkus’ office for review, according to a directive first obtained by E & E News. A longtime Republican operative, Mr. Konkus served on President Trump’s campaign before he was appointed deputy associate administrator in E.P.A.’s Office of Public Affairs. At the time, agency officials said they were ensuring agency funding is in line with Mr. Pruitt’s priorities.

The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program is funded through the E.P.A.’s approximately $26 million National Estuary Program. It funds 28 state-based estuary programs and delivers about $600,000 annually to the Narragansett Bay program. Mr. Pruitt’s proposed budget for 2018 would eliminate the national program.

Under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership the E.P.A. also has removed most mentions of the words “climate change” from its website. He has declined to link carbon dioxide emissions to global warming, and in an interview with Time magazine last week said he intended to assemble a team of independent experts to challenge established climate science because, Mr. Pruitt asserted, it has not yet been subject to “a robust, meaningful debate.”

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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