EPA stops policy of having press aide review grants

EPA stops policy of having press aide review grants
© Getty

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rescinded a policy last month that had a political appointee in the press office review the agency’s grants before they could be approved.

The EPA replaced the controversial policy with a new system in which relevant regional administrators or assistant administrators — most of whom are also political appointees — will review and approve grants.

ADVERTISEMENT

“EPA awards about $4 billion in grants annually, and the Trump EPA is committed to being good stewards of the taxpayers' huge investment in our agency by reviewing every grant award and solicitation,” a spokesman said. “Now that all of our regional administrators and most of our program [assistant administrators] are in place, we have shifted the responsibility to these leaders to review and manage the grants that flow through their respective offices.”

The new memo was first reported Monday by E&E News.

The political review process was instituted last year by EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks MORE as an attempt to ensure that grant funds coming from the agency reflected the Trump administration’s policies.

John Konkus, a senior aide in the public affairs office and former Trump campaign official, was tasked with reviewing every grant before it went out, as well as grant solicitations.

The system was widely criticized by Democrats and environmentalists who argued that Konkus wasn’t qualified to review grants and the process would overly politicize grantmaking.

In one of the most widely publicized cases, Konkus ended funding for the Bay Journal, a newspaper covering the Chesapeake Bay. Pruitt later restored the funding.

Documents obtained by E&E showed that Konkus often brought other political appointees from the public affairs office and elsewhere into the review process.

He also frequently flagged for defunding grants that mention climate change or other Obama administration priorities.

In one case, he wanted to end a grant because its paperwork mentioned the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s climate change rule. But after the recipient revised the paperwork to remove that mention, Konkus reversed his decision.