On 23 January 2017, both ProPublica and the Huffington Post published stories reporting that the Trump administration had frozen all Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants, with the former publication describing the scope of the putative move:
The Trump administration has imposed a freeze on grants and contracts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a move that could affect a significant part of the agency’s budget allocations and even threaten to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing, according to records and interviews.
EPA grants represent a large part of the agencies funding, and cover an extremely wide scope of programs ranging from research funding to disaster assistance. ProPublica reported on an internal e-mail suggesting that current EPA employees were both unprepared for such a move and unclear on its ramifications moving forward:
Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.
The Huffington Post, citing anonymous sources from Capitol Hill, provided an e-mail suggesting the imposition of increased restrictions, effective immediately, on EPA employees’ contact with the press:
I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.
No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
- No blog messages.
- The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
- Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
- Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
- No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
- List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.
- I will provide updates to this information as soon as I receive it.
As reported by ProPublica, there is some disagreement regarding how unprecedented this move might be:
One EPA employee aware of the freeze said he had never seen anything like it in nearly a decade with the agency. Hiring freezes happened, he said, but freezes on grants and contracts seemed extraordinary. The employee said the freeze appeared to be nationwide, and as of Monday night it was not clear for how long it would be in place.
Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition for the incoming administration, confirmed the basics of the freeze, but said the actions were not unprecedented.
“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first,” said Ebell, who returned over the weekend to his position directing energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market, industry-aligned group that has long fought the EPA’s growth and influence.
We have reached out to the EPA for clarification.