Reactions Vary To Reported Orders At EPA

Jan 25, 2017

Agencies and organizations that rely upon federal funding from the Environmental Protection Agency wonder if their funding streams will be cut off. This comes amid reports Tuesday that the Trump administration would ban the EPA from awarding new contracts or grants as well as bar employees from providing updates on social media or to reporters.

John Cronin is senior fellow for environmental affairs at the Dyson College Institute for Sustainability and the Environment at Pace University.

“I’ve spoken to a contact I have inside the EPA at the regional level. Region 2 is New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Cronin says. “And the word is slowly spreading through the region that they’re to speak to nobody, not the press and not the public and that an as yet unnamed person is going to take control of their social media and of their communications.”

Judith Enck, who was EPA Region 2 administrator recently left the post and is a visiting scholar at Pace University. Her position has not been filled. Cronin says it is unclear which projects might be affected by a ban on new EPA contracts and grants.

“Here in New York state, one of the largest groundwater contamination sites in the country is in Cayuga County. It’s almost five square miles, and it’s the subjects of EPA grants and contracts for a cleanup,” Cronin says. “It’s unclear whether this new order which gags EPA officials and brings a halt to contracts is going to affect something like that groundwater cleanup, and nobody’s allowed to talk to anybody about it.”

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We at Scenic Hudson think it’s too early to jump to conclusions about the environmental policies of the Trump administration,” says Sullivan. “We intend to explore how to continue to advance our goals and those of our constituents under the new regime.”

Sullivan hopes for a fresh approach to issues like General Electric’s PCB cleanup in the Hudson River, overseen by the EPA.

“Mr. [Scott] Pruitt, who has been nominated by President Trump to lead the EPA, has said he wants to delegate lead responsibility for implementing environmental programs to states,” Sullivan says. “Now, in the case of clean air, that may not lead to good outcomes because you can’t stop polluted air from crossing state boundaries. But we think this would be a good thing in the case of  the Hudson River PCBs and hope to work with the Cuomo administration that has stepped up to a leadership position on the issue of cleaning up the Hudson.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has asked EPA to require additional cleanup and Poughkeepsie-based Scenic Hudson would like to see such oversight delegated to New York. Julie Moore is secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

“The Vermont  Department of Environmental Conservation receives more than 40 percent of their budget through EPA,” says Moore.

Moore says that after a recent discussion, though, she is breathing a short-term sigh of relief.

“We did hear from the Environmental Council of States last night, ECOS, which is a Washington, D.C.-based organization, that they have learned that EPA staff are reviewing grants and contracts with the transition team and, pursuant to that review, the agency’s continuing to award the environmental program grants, so the things that we use to run state government as well as the state revolving loan fund.,” Moore says. “And it’s really the other types of grants and contracts that may go to entities like UVM or the Vermont Rural Water Association or the Lake Champlain Basin Program that’s our understanding are currently under review.”

Moore says she is still concerned about the longer term. An EPA Region 2 spokeswoman says the temporary pause on some EPA contracts and grants is not expected to have any immediate impacts; for example, it does not apply to Superfund cleanup efforts that are under way.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says in the face of the EPA grant and contract freeze, his office will examine all legal options to ensure the EPA meets its obligations to keep the state’s air and water safe. Meanwhile, President Trump has signed an executive order expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects.