Scott Pruitt’s EPA Just Took An Unprecedented Step At Muzzling Its Scientists

If you are concerned about the recent spate of hurricanes, forest fires, floods and other natural disasters, consider another problem: the paranoia, madness and need to control everything that has become the mark of Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt continues to climb to new levels.

Pruitt apparently doesn’t trust anyone outside or even those inside his own agency, whether it is to report to the public on important issues or his fantastic concern about his own security. 

Today, Pruitt was making news on all fronts.

First, only days before a major conference in Providence, Rhode Island, tied to the release of a 500 page report that was written after three years of peer review and public comments on the status of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary, the EPA pulled two staff scientists – one of whom was to present the event’s keynote address – and an EPA contractor from participating in the program.

Not surprisingly, considering Pruitt, Trump and the EPA’s disdain for the concept that there is a climate crisis caused in part by human behavior, the report is expected to have a large section on the impact of the changing climate.

“Narragansett Bay is one of Rhode Island’s most important economic assets and the EPA won’t let its scientists talk with local leaders to plan for its future,” fumes Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). 

“Whatever you think about climate change,” continues Whitehouse, “this kind of collaboration should be a no-brainer.”

“Muzzling our leading scientists,” adds Whitehouse, who is speaking at the event, “benefits no one.”

The EPA has a considerable stake in how work to clean up and preserve the waters off the New England coast is going. For the past six years, the EPA has given annual grants of $600,000 for each of more than two dozen national estuaries, including the Narragansett Estuary Program.

The EPA scientists scheduled to speak were research ecologist Autumn Oczkowski and her colleague who works in the lab, Rose Martin, along with EPA contractor Emily Shumchenia, who contributed two chapters to the report that will be released.

Oczkowski and Shumchenia were scheduled to be part of a panel titled, “The Present and Future Biological Implications of Climate Change.”

The event’s program director Tom Borden said he was informed this past Friday about the cancellations for the conference, which starts a week from today.

“I was not given a clear reason why,” said Borden, noting his team had worked closely with the agency’s scientists to restore the bay.

Borden said they invited Oczkowski and Shumchenia to speak because they are considered “independent scientists.”

In the Orwellian world of Trump’s EPA, that alone may have been the reason Pruitt has put a muzzle on them. While someone from the EPA is still expected to at least attend,  it is unclear if Oczkowski and Shumchenia will be there at all.

Since Trump took power and installed Pruitt, who as Attorney General of Oklahoma was a vocal critic of the EPA, often filing lawsuits against the agency, the administration has battled the concept that there is a climate crisis. Pages that address the issues have been removed from the agency’s website by political appointees. The EPA has also canceled a number of grants and initiatives related to climate change.

Robinson Fulweiler, a Boston University ecosystems ecologist who studies the effects of climate change on marine life, told the Washington Post that what the EPA is doing amounts to an “abuse of power” by the Trump administration.

“The silencing of government scientists is a scary step today silencing anyone who disagrees,” wrote Fulweiler in an email. “The choice by our government leaders to ignore the abundant and overwhelming data regarding climate change does not stop it from being true or prevent the negative consequences that are already occurring and those that are on the horizon.”

In the past week, Pruitt has said he is going get rid of the advisory boards of outside experts from industry, academia and elsewhere, who have long advised the EPA.

Pruitt said in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation that he is concerned individuals on the boards receive money from the agency, and “that to me causes questions on the independence and veracity and the transparency of those recommendations that are coming our way.”

“The administrator’s remarks drew rapid criticism from scientific and environmental groups,” reports the Washington Post, “who called the move a veiled attempt to ‘purge’ scientists from advisory boards in favor of more industry representatives.”

“Now the only scientists on Pruitt’s good list,” says Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “will be those with funding from polluters supporting Trump’s agenda to make America toxic again.”

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a blog post that if Pruitt issues the kind of directive he promised, he “would be willfully setting himself up to fail at the job of protecting public health and the environment.”

Meanwhile, Pruitt is living the life, using government and military aircraft to frequently make trips, many of them back to his home in Oklahoma.

That is chump change, however, next to the other big story surrounding Pruitt: his penchant for security, which is already costing the government more than twice what was spent on any of his predecessors – and now it is going up.

He is already the first EPA administrator in history to have 24/7 security, and recently spent $25,000 to install a soundproof booth near his office, even though one is available in a nearby room. He also is installing a security reader system to guard the door to his office against people inside the agency at an initial cost of about $16,000. 

The last two EPA Directors, under President Obama, left their office door open to any staff who wanted to consult with them, but Pruitt is too paranoid for that.

This week, the EPA advertised for a dozen more full-time security personnel to guard Pruitt, with salaries in some cases running from just over $100,000 a year to more than $160,000 a year, according to CNN. 

Salaries for Pruitt’s security team are now soaring above $2 million a year – and that doesn’t include a whole fleet of vehicles for the security to drive –  at a time when he is cutting the agency budget by more than 30 percent, slashing programs and services.

“It’s unclear if Pruitt and his staff are guarding against outside threats, internal leakers, or both,” reports the Washington Post. “EPA sources have described Pruitt as distrustful of career staffers at the agency.”

Representatives Peter DeFazio and Grace Napolitano have asked the EPA inspector general to investigate whether “taxpayer funds are being misused.”

In a letter, the two Democrats wrote that “Pruitt’s spending on travel, security and he soundproofing room is “symptomatic of a troubling culture that appears to have swept through this administration.”

“This culture, which is reflected in travel and lifestyle choices from the President on down,” they added in their letter to the EPA IG, “seems to embolden senior, politically appointed officials of the Trump administration to undertake lavish spending of taxpayer dollars for their sole and personal benefit, and not for the benefit of Americans paying the tab.”

Pruitt’s paranoia, his sense of entitlement, and his distrust of science and scientists are all a disaster for the EPA and for the American taxpayers. Only Trump seems pleased.

If Pruitt is getting so many more death threats than his predecessors, it is a sign that there is a tremendous number of Americans who are terribly upset with his policies and how he runs the EPA.

That should not be cause for hiring more security as would be expected in a totalitarian state, but rather an indication something needs to be done to get the EPA back to functioning to do the job it was created to do, and protect Americans from environmental disaster, toxic chemicals, poison in the air and water and everywhere else.

Spending millions on guards for Pruitt while taking millions away from enforcement programs that ensure the health of the American people is a disaster in itself.

Add your name to millions demanding Congress take action on the President’s crimes. IMPEACH TRUMP & PENCE!

What do you think?