By Anne Polansky
CSPW Sr. Climate Policy Analyst
Last week, the Trump Administration’s sustained attack on federal scientists studying climate change science and impacts escalated when US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt issued last-minute gag orders preventing several EPA research staff from giving planned presentations at a workshop about the overall health of the Narragansett Bay. This is the first such documented incident of speech censorship at the EPA of which we are aware. It is possible, if not likely, that there have been other similar instances that have gone unreported and relatively unnoticed.
News of the intervention by EPA headquarters got out, and The New York Times broke the story last Sunday afternoon; the Washington Post published a similar account that evening. By Monday morning, protesters holding signs reading “Science Trumps Silence,” “Un-gag Science,” and “Denial is Not a Policy” had gathered and lined the entrance to the Save The Bay Center in Providence where the workshop and press conference were held (see photo above).
CSPW is investigating the incident, and GAP attorneys are concerned that the EPA may not only be in violation of its own “scientific integrity” policy restricting censorship, but that it is attempting to infringe on the First Amendment rights enjoyed by all Americans, including civil servants. Details of the gag order, the response from Members of Congress and the public, and a discussion of the potential legal recourse available to the EPA staff follow.