See the bottom of this post for an important update.
Following President Trump's order for a contract freeze at the Environmental Protection Agency, two Minnesota leaders are raising questions about what this action means for the North Star State.
Via the Star Tribune, Michael Biesecker and John Flesher of the Associated Press report in EPA contract freeze, media black leaves states confused:
A Trump administration freeze on new Environmental Protection Agency contracts and grant awards raised fears that states and other recipients could lose essential funding for drinking water protection, hazardous waste oversight and a host of other programs — while a communications blackout left them dangling in uncertainty. . . .
President Donald Trump signed a directive shortly after his inauguration ordering a “freeze pending review” on all federal rules issued by agencies but not yet in effect.
But what the administration described Tuesday as a temporary suspension of new business activities at the EPA, including issuing work assignments to contractors, sowed widespread confusion about its reach. EPA contracts with outside vendors for a wide array of services, from engineering and research science to janitorial supplies.
What does this mean for Minnesota? In an email to the state's congressional delegation that was obtained and posted on Facebook by state representative and Minnesota House Environmental Committee minority lead Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, Minnesota Environmental Protection Agency (MPCA) commissioner John Linc Stine wrote:
To all members of Minnesota's Congressional Delegation:
Today's announcement by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)that grant and contract funds for states are being frozen is extremely concerning to the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). There has been no proactive communication from US EPA to the MPCA about this. Additionally, we have sought and been unable to receive clear answers from US EPA staff about the extent of this action. I am concerned that these first steps indicate erosion of the partnership for our shared enterprise of protecting health and the environment.
State agencies like MPCA share in the administration and implementation of important federal laws and programs including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, underground storage tanks, clean up of hazardous wastes and Superfund sites. This initial step by US EPA of freezing program requests for funding and projects could mean a loss of nearly $10 million for work MPCA is required to complete. Without prior notice and consultation, I am extremely concerned that our ability to cooperatively implement federal laws in Minnesota will be diminished. These laws protect and restore air quality, water quality and land/soils across Minnesota.
John Linc Stine
MN Pollution Control Agency
Always a stickler for facts over anecdote, Hansen asked the MPCA for specifics, and shared the answer in a separate Facebook post:
In addition to the MPCA Commissioner’s letter provided earlier, here is more detail I requested and received from the Mn Pollution Control Agency:
1. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has the following grant actions in process with EPA. The initial step of EPA to freeze program requests could mean a loss of nearly $10 million for MPCA’s work in Minnesota:
· Performance Partnership Grant –Funds our core Air and Water pollution control activities statewide.
· Superfund CORE –These funds cover compensation costs for our workers who work to cleanup contaminated Superfund sites statewide.
· Superfund Management Assistance – Funds for Superfund investigation and remediation (cleanup).
· Superfund Site Assessment – Monies used for assessment of both potential and existing Superfund sites.
· Great Lakes Restoration Capacity Grants - These funds are used for both staff compensation and operating costs associated with cleanup work..
We do not know if these EPA grants are included in the freeze:
· Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GRLI) – The GRLI is a multi-state effort to clean up the Great Lakes. Minnesota has a major project in the St. Louis River estuary and Duluth Harbor. The GRLI provides 65% federal match to 35% state funds for cleanup projects. The St. Louis River project’s total cost is $72 million.
· State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) – Funds for core work to protect the environment and public health in states and on tribal lands.
We'll keep following developments in this story as it unfolds (or clams up as the case may be in the Trump administration).
UPDATE: Rep. Rick Hansen has posted new information on his Facebook page:
"Rep. Hansen – as requested, here is the message received last night on this topic.
Additionally, today I requested and have not received clarification or examples of what is meant by “working to quickly address issues related to other categories of grants” in the EPA statement.
John Linc Stine
MN Pollution Control Agency
approved by EPA at 5 ET.
EPA staff have been reviewing grants and contracts information with the incoming transition team. Pursuant to that review, the Agency is continuing to award the environmental program grants and state revolving loan fund grants to the states and tribes; and we are working to quickly address issues related to other categories of grants. The goal is to complete the grants and contracts review by the close of business on Friday, January 27.
Office of Public Affairs
US Environmental Protection Agency
Photo: Duluth Harbor, via St. Louis Estuary: The Stories and the Science. Minnesota has a major project in the St. Louis River estuary and Duluth Harbor, according to the MPCA, and the contract freeze might affect this $72 million project.