EPA, Other Agencies Find Their Words Scrutinized Under Trump

0124_Donald_Trump_SCOTUS_nominee_01
President Donald Trump looks up while signing an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House on January 24. After he signed the executive orders, he told reporters he will decide on his U.S. Supreme Court nominee this week and publicly announce the person next week. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has put staff at a slew of government agencies on notice - be careful what you say.

Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department all have seen directives come down from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate to the public.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.

On Tuesday, a source at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named.

Asked if the EPA had been gagged, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday: "I don't know ... we're looking into it ... I don't think it's a surprise we're going to review the policies but I don't have any info at this time."

The agency also was asked by the White House on Monday to temporarily halt all contracts, grants and interagency agreements pending a review, according to multiple sources. The EPA awards billions of dollars worth of grants and contracts every year to support programs around environmental testing, cleanups and research.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has seen efforts to curb communication. On Monday, staff at the department's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) were asked in an email to suspend the release of "any public-facing documents."

"This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content," the email said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture disavowed the email on Tuesday, saying in a statement that it was released without "departmental direction and prior to departmental guidance being issued."

"ARS will be providing updated direction to its staff," according to the statement.

The ARS focuses on scientific research into the main issues facing agriculture, including long-term climate change.

Last week, staff at the Interior Department were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee retweeted posts about the relatively low attendance at Trump's inauguration, and about how the issues of climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the White House website.

The department has since resumed tweeting.

Trump has promised to promote oil drilling and mining by cutting regulation, including by targeting Obama's initiative to combat climate change. Trump also has suggested pulling the United States out of a global pact on climate change signed by nearly 200 countries last year.

Trump's nominees to run the EPA, Interior and the Department of Agriculture - Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, respectively - are awaiting Senate confirmation.

Trump also has drawn heavily from the energy industry lobby and pro-drilling think tanks to build a team charged with preparing the EPA for its new leadership under Trump, according to a list of the newly introduced 10-member team seen by Reuters on Monday.

An EPA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.