Trump team scrutinizing EPA climate science, grants in agency review
- The Environmental Protection Agency's freeze on grants and contracts is expected to end on Friday, Greenwire reports, as the incoming administration completes its review of the programs and agency science.
- Earlier this week, the Trump administration put a hold on all EPA grants and instituted a media blackout for its staff, sparking widespread concern among recipients of the $4 billion in available funds.
- Media reports Wednesday also indicated that Trump political appointees would review any new climate science from the agency. An EPA spokesperson pushed back on the report, saying new science is under a "temporary hold," and that there is no directive to subject scientific research to political reviews.
The EPA currently has more than $4 billion in available grant funding for environmental restoration efforts, advanced engine deployment, air quality measurement and more.
Much of that money goes to state governments, meaning the freeze could have immediate consequences for their ability to enforce regulations. A Pennsylvania environmental regulator told a local news outlet that the suspension of grants would "significantly disrupt the work of the agency to protect public health and the environment."
Administration officials told news outlets the freeze is likely to end Friday, as will a review of the EPA's website content, including scientific information on the causes of climate change.
Media reports this week suggested the Trump administration will remove pages on climate change from the EPA's website and make any new scientific information from agency scientists subject to review by political appointees.
An EPA spokesperson later walked back those statements, saying new work is only under a "temporary hold" and the review by the transition team only extends to existing information on the EPA website.
"It doesn’t mean everything that comes out of EPA is going to go through a filter of political appointees with degrees in communications," Doug Ericksen told The Hill, adding that any changes to the EPA's climate information will be "science-based."
But whether the Trump EPA's definition of climate science aligns with the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming remains to be seen — and any change could have major implications for emissions regulations.
In his confirmation hearings, Trump's pick to head the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), told lawmakers that he believed there is still room for debate on the causes of climate change. Pruitt's climate stance was echoed by a number of Trump appointees, including Rex Tillerson, Rep. Ryan Zinke, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the picks for Secretary of State, Department of Interior, and the Department of Energy, respectively.
That perspective breaks with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, who hold that humans are the dominant cause of global warming since the middle of last century. If it becomes the default perspective of the U.S. government, the change could have wide-reaching effects on agency rulemaking, clean energy funding and more.
In his hearing, Pruitt called his opinion of climate change "immaterial" because the EPA is under a legal obligation to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act. But that could change if Congress acts to amend the law or the Trump administration attacks the EPA's 2009 carbon endangerment finding, which holds that greenhouse gas pollution is a threat to public health and should be regulated.
Power sector lawyers say challenging the finding would be difficult, as the Trump EPA would likely have to prove in court that greenhouse gases are not a threat. Pruitt has shown an appetite for the issue, signing onto a legal challenge to the finding in 2012, though he also affirmed the EPA's legal obligation to regulate carbon under the endangerment finding in his nomination hearing.
That suit was thrown out by the D.C. Circuit Court, but the Trump EPA could have an advantage in future challenges due to judicial deference — the legal concept that courts should allow federal agencies wide leeway to make rules, so long as they do not explicitly break the law. The concept was one of the sticking points in the Clean Power Plan court hearing last year, with a number of energy lawyers saying they expected the D.C. Circuit to defer to EPA's authority on the plan.
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