The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has frozen all new grants and contracts and banned its employees from talking about it with the press or public.
That’s according to reports from ProPublica and The Huffington Post as well as information passed anonymously from EPA staff to Business Insider. Business Insider reached out to the EPA to confirm the reports, as well as a report that Trump has banned the EPA from funding science, but did not immediately receive a response.
The EPA’s core mission is to protect Americans from poisons and other dangers in their air, water, and soil. Much of that work happens through private contractors, hired by the EPA for services like water quality testing and cleanups.
With all new grants and contracts frozen, it’s not clear how work will continue. Here’s what still a mystery:
- Does the freeze impact the $6.4 billion in active contracts the EPA already has in place?
- Is the freeze indefinite or temporary?
- Should we expect a shift in the kinds of projects the EPA takes on, or how it handles them?
The Trump administration does not appear to intend to answer those questions yet.
EPA employees reportedly received a memo from a member of the agency staff instructing them not to talk to the press or public. It bans employees from issuing press releases, sharing information on agency social media, blogging, putting new information on the agency website, or sending messages on agency listservs, because those messages might leak to the public.
It also states that all speaking engagements by agency employees are on hold, pending a review. You can read the memo in full at The Huffington Post.
As Business Insider has reported in the past, federal agencies are big and mostly staffed with non-political civil servants. That can provide scientists and other staff who want to work on controversial issues like climate change cover, even when a new presidential administration is hostile to their work. There’s simply too much going on in too many places for politicians to snuff it all out.
However, the Trump administration has been particularly hostile to the EPA. Trump’s pick to lead the agency, Scott Pruitt, is involved in active lawsuits against EPA activities across the country. Pruitt argued in his confirmation hearing that the EPA has far overstepped its bounds as a regulatory agency in the past.
Further, Trump’s transition at the EPA was led by Myron Ebell, a man who has made a career denying the science of climate change.
Ebell, who no longer works with the transition, told ProPublica, “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.”
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