The EPA's decision to prevent its own scientists from speaking about climate change at a conference in Rhode Island on Monday prompted protests and criticism from lawmakers and activists who said it's just the latest effort by the Trump administration to downplay global warming.

Protesters wearing tape over their mouths and holding signs gathered outside the event, the State of the Narragansett Bay and Watershed program.

One sign read, "Science Trump's Silence." Another said, "Un-gag EPA."

The New York Times reported Monday that the EPA abruptly canceled the speaking appearances of three agency scientists who had contributed substantial material to a 400-page report to be revealed at the event about the health of the Narragansett Bay, the largest estuary in New England.

The report has a strong emphasis on climate change. Among the findings, the Times reported, is that climate change is affecting air and water temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and fish in and around the estuary.

The EPA said the scientists were allowed to attend the event, but not speak at it, because "it is not an EPA conference."

But the EPA funds 28 state-based estuary programs, including the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. It gives about $600,000 annually to the Narragansett Bay program.

"This type of political interference, or scientific censorship — whatever you want to call it — is ill-advised and does a real disservice to the American public and public health," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said at an opening news conference for the event in Providence. "We can debate the issues. We can have different viewpoints. But we should all be able to objectively examine the data and look at the evidence."

Members of Rhode Island's state congressional delegation, all of them Democrats, joined Reed at the press conference.

"We have got to get beyond this point of stifling science, of muzzling good science, and speak to the facts as they are," said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I. "This shouldn't be about a Democratic or Republican issue. It's about protecting the planet."

The event's director, Tom Borden, said that the head of the EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory Atlantic Ecology Division informed him Friday that the keynote speaker, research ecologist Autumn Oczkowski, and another colleague, Rose Martin, could not make presentations at the event. Emily Shumchenia, an EPA consultant, was also scheduled to speak.