The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken the first steps toward creating a commemorative coin to celebrate its response to last year’s natural disasters, including several hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico and parts of Texas and the Gulf Coast.
The agency awarded a contract to The Lapel Pins Plus Network LLC to design and create 1,750 “challenge coins” featuring the EPA’s logo and messaging praising its response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the California wildfires, CNN reported.
The EPA is spending more than $8,500 on the coins, CNN reported, citing a contract obtained through public records by the network and the super PAC American Bridge.
The contract instructs the designer to include the phrase “response excellence” on the coin, and says that the coin should "convey the sentiment that EPA staff from all across the country worked together to respond to the incidents from Puerto Rico to California (and regions in between).”
Challenge coins, a tradition that originated in the military, are often created to commemorate historic events or represent federal agencies. Presidents also have their own challenge coin.
The Trump administration had faced periods of major criticism for its response to the hurricanes, particularly in Puerto Rico, where critics called its actions inadequate.
During Hurricane Harvey, the EPA found more than a dozen Superfund sites that were flooded or damaged in the storm. It was revealed earlier this year that toxic spills in Houston caused by Harvey were worse than first reported, even in areas where the EPA initially declared it safe.
Environmental groups criticized the EPA’s proposed coin, telling CNN that the agency’s response to the disasters was “lacking,” especially when it came to addressing issues of contaminated drinking water and toxic flooding."
"It's a complicated situation but I can't believe that they are giving awards to people for this,” Neil Carman, a former Texas environmental official now with the Sierra Club, told CNN. “It's kind of disgusting to me, because the huge concern is that a lot of material escaped and the flooding carried the dioxin to people's yards."
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the challenge coin contract to CNN, saying it was "not news" and that “the dedicated public servants who worked tirelessly throughout the 2017 disaster relief efforts should be commended for their service."
The Hill has reached out to the EPA for comment.