The White House placed the EPA under a gag order to keep it from communicating about taxpayer-funded science

Public science just got a lot less public
Public science just got a lot less public
Image: AP Photo/Matthew Brown
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US Environmental Protection Agency staff are currently not able to talk directly to the public or the press.

On Monday (Jan. 23), the Donald Trump administration placed restrictions on EPA employees “effective immediately” to stop communicating with the public, as the Huffington Post first reported and was later confirmed by several major news outlets.

The administration directed the EPA not to issue any press releases, blog posts, or social media posts. Incoming requests from reporters will be “carefully screened,” according to a memo obtained by the Huffington Post, and Trump’s transition team would be reviewing all webinars—often offered to press and the public to help communicate complex policy issues—and deciding which would proceed. Publicly funded environmental science, in other words, will not be communicated with the public.

The gag order was announced to EPA staff the same day that the Trump administration froze all EPA grants and contracts. The agency funds research science and local-level environmental cleanup through grants, and contracts with companies to do everything from respond to toxic spills to test groundwater for contaminants, all of which is now halted effective Monday.

A similar gag order appears to have been placed on the science arm of the US Department of Agriculture, and on Health and Human Services. An official at the Department of State confirmed to Quartz that the department was directed to refer any press questions about the president’s executive orders to the White House, even if they involve the State Department. A Centers for Disease Control and Protection employee confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they are not under a gag order at this time.

Shutting down a federal agency’s communication with the public about government-funded science was a tactic by Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s administration. Federal scientists were “muzzled” against speaking about climate change, and interviews with press were highly controlled, causing press coverage of the topic to drop by 80%, according to Canada’s own environmental agency.