A teenage girl walks around the track of a park across the street from the Valero refinery Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston. An Environmental Protection Agency rule to require refineries to monitor emissions of benzene is to be publicly debated Tuesday near Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Some 300 environmental activists yell their support for stricter pollution rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency during a march to the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh by some 5000 union members, led by the United Mine Workers of America Thursday, July 31, 2014. Thursday is the first of two days of public hearings being held by the Environmental Protection Agency in Pittsburgh to discuss stricter pollution rules for coal-burning power plants proposed by the EPA. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A member of the Boilermakers local 154 Pittsburgh holds a sign at a rally to support American energy and jobs in the coal and related industries at Highmark Stadium in downtown Pittsburgh, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. The rally is being held the day before the Environmental Protection Agency conducts public hearings on its new emissions regulations for existing coal fired power plants. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Matthew Anthony, of Atlanta, sits with a sign advocating clean energy jobs while listening to public testimony at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing on tougher pollution restrictions, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. In the Republican-heavy Southeast, critics said Tuesday that a plan by President Barack Obamaâs administration to cut pollution would raise electricity prices, result in job losses and may not significantly curtail the carbon emissions blamed for global warming. The criticism came as the EPA held the first of two days of public hearings in Atlanta, Denver and Washington on the plan, which would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030 from levels seen in 2005. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials Jeb Stenhouse, from left, Carol Kemker and Gregg Worley, listen to public testimony during a hearing on tougher pollution restrictions, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. In the Republican-heavy Southeast, critics said Tuesday that a plan by President Barack Obamaâs administration to cut pollution would raise electricity prices, result in job losses and may not significantly curtail the carbon emissions blamed for global warming. The criticism came as the EPA held the first of two days of public hearings in Atlanta, Denver and Washington on the plan, which would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 2030 from levels seen in 2005. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Claire Harrison, of Alpharetta, Ga., protests the Environmental Protection Agency during a rally in response to an EPA hearing on tougher pollution restrictions, Tuesday, July 29, 2014, in Atlanta. Utility and coal companies are expected to argue Tuesday against proposals from the Obama administration that would force a 30 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 from 2005 levels. The EPA is holding three public hearings on the proposal in Atlanta, Denver and Washington. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The Phillips 66 refinery is seen in the foreground as homes sit on the hill in the background, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in the Wilmington area of Los Angeles. The Environmental Protection Agency is coming to one of the nation's largest petroleum-producing areas to hold public hearings on a proposal aimed at reducing toxic air pollution from California to Texas through tough new controls on oil refineries. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - This Sept. 4, 2011, file photo shows the main plant facility at the Navajo Generating Station, as seen from Lake Powell in Page, Ariz. The federal government has come up with a final version of a rule meant to cut haze-causing emissions from the largest coal-fired power plant in the West. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision Monday, July 28, 2014, reflects a compromise by tribal and federal officials, environmental groups and the owners of the Navajo Generating Station, which is on track to cease operations in 2044. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, right, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. The energy panel meeting Wednesday comes just days before a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to release a revised proposal setting the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide from newly built power plants. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Protestors opposed to hydraulic fracturing, demonstrate outside a regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, in Philadelphia. The protestors plan to travel to agency's Washington headquarters to deliver petitions. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy gestures after signing new emission guidelines during an announcement of a plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, Monday, June 2, 2014, at EPA headquarters in Washington. In a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming, the Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday that cuts carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years, but pushes the deadline for some states to comply until long after President Barack Obama leaves office. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
FILE - In this June 20, 2012 file photo, construction is seen going on at the Clinton Landfill near Clinton, Ill. Communities that rely on a large central Illinois aquifer say Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to block disposal of PCBs at the Clinton Landfill might not do enough to protect their drinking water. Quinn's office says the state Environmental Protection Agency will modify a permit to prohibit disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls because local landfill approval in 2002 didn't include PCBs. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
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By DINA CAPPIELLO
WASHINGTON (AP) - Journalist and scientific organizations accused the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday of attempting to muzzle its independent scientific advisers by directing them to funnel all outside requests for information through agency officials.
In a letter Tuesday, groups representing journalists and scientists urged the EPA to allow advisory board members to talk directly to news reporters, Congress and other outside groups without first asking for permission from EPA officials. An April memo from the EPA's chief of staff said that "unsolicited contacts" need to be "appropriately managed" and that committee members should refrain from directly responding to requests about committees' efforts to advise the agency.
The scientific advisory board's office had asked the EPA to clarify the communications policy for board members, who are government employees.
"The new policy only reinforces any perception that the agency prioritizes message control over the ability of scientists who advise the agency to share their expertise with the public," the groups wrote.
The EPA relies on independent advisory boards to weigh complex scientific information and to advise the agency on policy, such as setting new standards for air pollutants. Recently, Republicans in Congress have been critical of the scientific advisory board overseeing the review of the ground-level ozone standard, saying it failed to evaluate the consequences of recommending a tougher limit.
The chair of that panel, H. Christopher Frey, said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday in which he stressed he was offering his personal opinion, that he found the tone of the EPA memo to be unnecessary.
Frey, a distinguished university professor in North Carolina State University's environmental engineering department, said that many of the scientists that serve on the committees are national and internationally-renowned experts and that EPA "need not be too strong in precluding interactions with the media or others."
For journalists, it's the latest skirmish involving transparency issues and the Obama administration. Last month, more than three dozen groups wrote to the White House about what they described as growing censorship throughout federal agencies. Last year, dozens of leading news organizations protested restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of President Barack Obama performing official duties and two press groups urged members to stop using official photos and video handed out by the White House, dismissing them as little more than "government propaganda."
An EPA spokeswoman said there are no constraints on members fielding requests in a personal or professional capacity. She said the memo was designed to assure transparency.