EPA Silenced by Administration

January 26, 2017

PBS.org reports the Trump administration has instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants. The order is seen as a  part of a broader communications clampdown within the executive branch.

Emails sent to EPA staff and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or social media posts.

Staff at the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service also received orders not to issue any news releases, photos, fact sheets and social media posts. Spokespersons at agencies within the Transportation Department received an email Monday morning telling them: "There will be no releases or social media until we hear from new leadership." The one-sentence email, which was obtained by The Associated Press, came from the department's top career spokeswoman, rather than a political appointee.

Staffers in EPA's public affairs office were instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management. "Incoming media requests will be carefully screened," one directive said. "Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press."

The Associated Press said the media ban came to light Tuesday as the agency moved to delay implementation of at least 30 environmental rules finalized in the closing months of President Barack Obama's term targeting updated air pollution rulings for several states, renewable fuel standards and limits on the amount of formaldehyde that can leach from wood products.

Trump also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new EPA business activities, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors, from engineering and research science to janitorial supplies. The administration said the freeze on EPA contracts and grants won't apply to pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction activities. State agencies that rely on EPA for funding were left in the dark, with both Democratic and Republican officials saying they had received no information from EPA about the freeze.

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the Trump administration should immediately reverse the media blackout and contracting freeze. The executive director for the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Jeff Ruch , said the orders go beyond what has occurred in prior presidential transitions.