Trump Freezes EPA Grants as States Scramble for Funds

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The Trump administration has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to stop issuing grants and contracts, throwing agency programs into a state of uncertainty as budgets and priorities are reviewed.

President Donald Trump, who promised in his campaign to rein in the agency’s funding and rulemaking authority, has also placed a freeze on hiring federal workers, a hold on fresh regulations from the Obama administration’s final months, and—most recently—blocked EPA employees from issuing press releases, blog updates or social media posts.

The freeze on grants and contracts, should it extend into spring, could affect a wide range of environmental efforts, from the cleanup of contaminated waste sites, to water quality testing and analysis of climate change research. Much of those funds go to state agencies, where the absence of a budget for this fiscal year means some states are nearing the end of their reserves.

“There are states that will run out of federal funds very quickly,” Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, executive director and general counsel for the Environmental Council of the States told Bloomberg BNA, adding “at least one state has indicated they are down to their last $60,000.” Dunn, whose organization represents state environmental agencies, declined to say which states are facing the steepest challenges.

Congress did not pass the fiscal year 2017 spending bill for the EPA last year, and instead voted on a continuing resolution in December to fund the federal government through April 28, 2017. Some states have not yet received funding through April, Dunn said.

Dunn said that her organization and its state agency members received no information on the scope or duration of the freeze, whether it affects state and tribal assistance grants, or whether it will freeze performance partnership agreements or third-party contractors.

The EPA spent about $5.3 billion in fiscal year 2016 on grants and contracts, according to Usaspending.gov. Spending stayed level around $6 billion per year for most of President Obama’s tenure, with the exception of fiscal year 2009 when the amount rose to $11.6 billion due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus funds.

Doug Ericksen, communications director for Trump’s EPA transition team, confirmed to Bloomberg BNA that there is a hold on outgoing funds and decision-making related to EPA grants and contracts. The freeze could be as short as couple of days and is intended to give the new administration time to understand where the funds are going and how they are being used, Ericksen said. He emphasized that nothing has been canceled.

The Trump administration is looking for proposals across the government for ways to trim the budget, Ericksen said, a step he called “pretty standard.”

But the move leaves a bad first impression for state agencies, whose authority EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt said he would elevate under Trump.

“What is of great concern to us is the lack of communication and consultation with states,” said Dunn. “We would hope again that this is an initial misstep and that in the future we will have a more cohesive communication plan for this kind of information.”

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