Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency has been told to freeze all grants and contracts until further notice, an unusual move that will likely affect everything from state-level efforts to improve air and water quality to toxic waste cleanup efforts, The Washington Post and ProPublica reported Monday night. The order went out to the EPA Office of Acquisition Management within hours of President Trump's inauguration, and EPA staff were ordered not to talk about the freeze, The Huffington Post reports, citing an email purportedly sent to EPA employees on Monday, the same day Trump issued a blanket hiring freeze.
"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," Myron Ebell, an EPA critic at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute who led Trump's EPA transition team, told ProPublica Monday night. "This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it's very similar to what others have done." EPA veterans and The Washington Post disagree, saying the blanket freeze was unprecedented in recent history.
The Senate has not yet voted on Trump's nominated EPA director, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has frequently sued the EPA, accusing it of regulatory overreach on everything from mercury pollution to carbon emissions from power plants and waterways. The memo to EPA staff obtained by The Huffington Post includes strictures such as "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"; and "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," or the Office of Public Affairs. EPA officials did not respond to requests for comment from any of the news organizations.