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Dem senator questions EPA on stark decline in grant awards

Dem senator questions EPA on stark decline in grant awards
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent a letter to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday, calling into question a dramatic decrease in grant funding awarded by the agency in the past year.

According to Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Dem senator questions EPA on stark decline in grant awards Green group backs Sens. Baldwin, Nelson for reelection MORE (D-Del.), his staff's review of publicly available data on EPA grant awards found that in 2017 the agency awarded $1.1 billion in the first three quarters, only a third of the $3.5 billion awarded in the same time frame the previous year.

In the letter, sent to EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Energy: US projected to be net energy exporter | Water rule lawsuits roll in | GOP chair challenges cancer agency over pesticides States, greens sue Trump over Obama EPA water rule delay MORE, Carper questioned the reason behind the agency's decrease in grant awards and asked what the agency was doing with the nearly $4 billion it was allotted through Congress to award to nonprofits and local governments.

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Carper added that his office's analysis found that almost every U.S. state had seen a decrease in EPA funding in 2017 compared to 2016. Nine states, including New York, New Jersey, Arizona and Wyoming, saw more than a 90 percent decline in reported funding.

Carper also questioned a delay in EPA reporting of grant awards, noting that the database has not been updated since the end of September, even though the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act required it make the data available within a publicly searchable database within 30 days.

"It appears from the analysis conducted by my staff that EPA is either not awarding the money Congress appropriated, or it is not reporting this data to the publicly searchable database as required by law, or both," Carper said in the letter.

Carper said his letter was a follow-up to previous correspondence he sent the administrator in August, questioning the EPA's choice of a political appointee to oversee the agency's issuance of grant decisions. Carper said Pruitt never sent him a response.

An EPA spokesman responded to Carper's letter Tuesday, saying that the senator's analysis lacked all of the facts, and that the data he sought about grants was in fact available online on another database.

"Although EPA is continuing to analyze the information on grant funding Senator Carper provided in his letter sent this morning, it appears the data that the senator is reviewing is from an outdated source. The Treasury Department transferred data on federal grants reported under the [Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act] to a new website (beta.usaspending.gov) in the Fourth quarter of 2017," said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox. "Senator Carper should be familiar with this piece of legislation as he was the author in 2006."

He added that 99 percent of all grant actions requested by the program offices have been obligated or awarded.

A Carper spokeswoman responded to EPA's comments, saying, "Regardless of which site you use – the current site or the unfinished beta site – the data clearly shows a decline in reported grants awarded in 2017 compared to the same timeframe in 2016. Senator Carper first wrote to Administrator Pruitt about the issue of grants in August 2017. If Mr. Pruitt has new or additional data that he would finally like to share, then we look forward to receiving a timely answer to our oversight request.”