January 30 at 5:33 PM

The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

 

The Trump administration has lifted a temporary freeze on billions of dollars of grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the programs will continue as planned.

An email sent late Friday from the EPA’s acting administrator, career official Catherine McCabe, informed staffers that officials had completed a review of the agency’s extensive list of grants and that all “are proceeding normally, and nothing has been delayed,” including revolving grants to states and Native American tribes.

McCabe also said that as officials keep reviewing outside contracts, the EPA will continue to employ contractors involved in maintaining agency infrastructure, implementing core environmental programs and supporting scientific research.

The news came more than a week after EPA employees were informed following President Trump’s inauguration that, “effective immediately,” all agency contracts and grants would temporarily be frozen.

According to its website, the EPA annually awards more than $4 billion in funding for grants and other assistance agreements. The temporary hold cast a cloud of uncertainty over those and caused widespread fears among scientists, state and local officials, universities and Native American tribes that often benefit from the grants.

In her email, McCabe described the temporary halt — as well as other measures such as a crackdown on outside communications and a pause in publishing new and pending regulations — as “standard practice for a transition.”

“I realize that you may be feeling anxious about the uncertainty of these changes and that many of you have questions,” McCabe wrote, even as she assured employees that “senior EPA career officials, including myself, have been educating the President’s new transition team about many aspects of the Agency’s programs and operations.”

In a separate email to employees, Don Benton — a top Trump adviser to the EPA and former Washington state lawmaker whom the president tapped to help with the agency’s transition — insisted that media reports of crackdowns on public speech and scientific autonomy at the EPA were “just not accurate.” He said he could not validate statements by former transition officials, such as longtime EPA critic Myron Ebell, who has expressed a desire to see the agency’s staffing slashed substantially alongside a massive rollback in environmental regulations.

“I cannot tell you today what the final decisions from the White House, from our new Administrator, and from the Congress will be,” Benton said in his email. “I can tell you that despite what you read and see on TV, no final decisions have been made with regard to the EPA. Changes will likely come, and when they do, we will work together to implement them.”