White House orders freeze on EPA grants, media blackout

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, nominated as President Donald Trump's EPA administrator, testifies during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 18. Tuesday, it was reported that the Trump White House has ordered a temporary halt to all EPA grants and contracts initiated by Barack Obama's government until they can be fully assessed. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 24 (UPI) — The White House has ordered a temporary halt to all in-progress federal grants and contracts at the Environmental Protection Agency — holdovers from Barack Obama‘s government — until they can be reviewed and approved by President Donald Trump‘s administration.

The freeze order could impact various workings at the environmental agency, from budget allocations to actual core operations, ProPublica reported Tuesday.

The temporary order was issued to stop all contracts initiated by the Obama administration, so they can be reviewed.

“They are trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen,” Myron Ebell, Trump’s EPA transition chief and policy director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said. “Any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first.”

“We are in a holding pattern,” a contracting officer at the EPA said, according to ProPublica’s report. “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.”

EPA grants are typically used to fund private, state and city environmental testing, remedial efforts and innovation projects.

Trump’s appointee to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Last week, he testified before the Environment and Public Works Committee — during which he stated his belief that climate change is not a hoax, which appears to be a departure from Trump’s core views.

Pruitt, a proponent of fossil fuel production, has frequently been an opponent of Obama’s EPA and is expected to pursue a conservative agenda at the environmental agency.

The EPA did not officially comment on the White House announcement on Tuesday.

As part of the new edict from the White House, the agency has also been ordered to keep mostly silent about press updates on the grant review process — which effectively amounts to a blackout of news releases, social media posts, blog updates or non-official communications of any kind.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the freeze might remain in place.

Although intense scrutiny of existing policies by new presidential administrations isn’t uncommon, such a suspension of current grant agreements and contracts is unusual, by most accounts.

“This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it’s very similar to what others have done,” Ebell said.

On Monday, Trump also ordered a temporary across-the-board hiring freeze in the federal government, with exceptions in military and national security offices, as part of his “Contract with the American Voter” — a plan of action for his first 100 days.

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