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Report: Trump team freezes EPA grant program, issues gag order to agency staff

The Trump administration issued a directive to U.S. EPA staff to freeze grant programs that provide funds for state climate programs and other activities, according to The Huffington Post. The agency also reportedly set out strict guidelines for speaking to media, engaging in social media and posting information to the agency's website, apparently at the direction of administration officials.

Employees at the agency were told to stop work on grant programs that provide funds to states, students and others for initiatives such as state-led climate programs, environmental justice, brownfield site redevelopment, the Great Lakes and other pollution projects, The Huffington Post said, citing an unnamed EPA staff member.

Staff also seem to have received guidance on how to address media requests. In a memo reportedly circulated to agency employees, staff was told to report any media requests to a communications director and informed that any incoming requests will be "carefully screened." The memo also banned press releases, social media postings and blog posts and said no new information is to be posted on the agency's website.

At the daily White House press briefing Jan. 24, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the "gag order" given to the EPA, which a reporter suggested was similar to one given to the Department of the Interior the weekend of the inauguration banning staff from using that agency's Twitter handle after photos comparing the inauguration of President Donald Trump with former President Barack Obama's were tweeted.

"That story literally is breaking as we were entering the briefing room," Spicer said, although the report in The Huffington Post was published the evening of Jan. 23. Spicer said the Trump administration is looking into it and added that the move is not unprecedented in a new administration.

"I don't think it's any surprise that when there's an administration turnover that we're going to review the policies," Spicer said. He promised to provide an update on the situation if more information becomes available, but he did not do so at the briefing.

Democratic policy expert Elizabeth Gore agreed in an email Jan. 24 that the move to freeze the grant program is not unexpected considering the regulatory changes promised by Trump. Gore is a policy director for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and served in the White House under President Bill Clinton.

"More than perhaps any other federal agency, the agenda of the EPA will radically change under this new administration. Given that, it's not surprising that the new administration is putting a hold on grants while it determines how to move forward in a dramatically different way," Gore said. "Does this have real impact on those receiving money for research, air quality monitoring, and clean water? Absolutely it does. Elections have consequences. This is a result of a sharp change in direction as new leadership takes the helm at the EPA."

Trump's pick to lead the EPA has yet to be confirmed by Congress; however, his confirmation hearing was held Jan. 18. Obama's first EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, was confirmed Jan. 22, 2009 — two days after that president's inauguration.

Requests for comment from the Trump administration transition team and EPA officials were not returned as of publication.