EPA confirms White House freeze on grants, contracts ends Friday

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By Timothy Gardner | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency said that a freeze handed down by President Donald
Trump’s White House on new contracts and grants that has led to
fears of delays in toxic pollution cleanups would be completely
reversed on Friday or at latest on Monday.

The freeze has led to widespread concerns in states and
cities about potential delays in efforts to monitor and clean up
toxic pollution, particularly lead pollution in drinking water,
that would put the health of Americans at risk.

The agency allocates nearly $4 billion annually on projects
ranging from cleaning up polluted industrial sites to testing
air and water for toxins.

Doug Ericksen, a former Washington state senator who is the
EPA’s new communications director, said in an email that $3.8
billion of the $3.9 billion in contracts and grants was cleared
on Wednesday night. “The remainder should be cleared today.
There might be a very small number left for Monday, but not
likely.”

The EPA has not issued any news releases about ending the
freeze, which has led to uncertainty.

On Thursday, a day after Ericksen said the vast majority of
the contracts and grants were cleared, five Democratic senators,
including Edward Markey and Tom Carper, wrote a letter to Trump “with alarm” urging him to “immediately reverse this troubling
action.”

Ericksen said they should rest assured. “No projects are
delayed or cut. None. Not sure how much more clear I can be,” he
said in the email.

U.S. Representative Dan Kildee from Flint, Michigan, home to
the lead poisoning crisis in drinking water, also wrote to Trump
this week asking when the freeze would be lifted. An EPA
spokeswoman told Kildee’s office that $100 million in
congressional aid would not be affected by the freeze. But
Kildee was uncertain whether contracts and grants centering on
testing and expertise about the lead crisis would be delayed.

A Kildee spokesman said on Friday that the congressman had
still not gotten a written response to his letter from Trump or
the EPA.

The EPA sent employees an internal memo late on Friday, seen
by Reuters that said it was making progress in lifting the
freeze, which it called standard practice during a transition. “As of today, we have completed review of our grant programs,”
the memo said. “The review of contracts is nearly complete, with
very few contracts still under review,” the memo said, without
elaborating. (Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici)



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