John Konkus, a deputy public affairs chief and one of President Trump's political appointees, denies an EPA grant for studying climate change in an email dated 5 September 2017, writing, 'No to this one please...' Graphic: NRDC / EPA

18 June 2018 (Silencing Science Tracker) – On 18 June 2018, E&E News reported that a political appointee at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had ordered the cancellation of several research grants. According to the report, “several grants that included climate change in their description or [were] linked to environmental organizations” were cancelled at the request of EPA’s Deputy Administration for Public Affairs John Konkus, a political appointee.

Deputy Administrator Konkus was responsible for reviewing grants between August 2017 and May 2018. He reportedly told EPA staff that, as part of his review, he would be looking for “the double C-word” (i.e., climate change). He ordered the cancellation of at least four grants for research on climate change and related topics.

EPA Research Grants Cancelled at Direction of Political Appointee

18 June 2018 (E&E News) – Recently disclosed records shed more light on EPA's review of agency grants, which number in the billions of dollars.

Internal EPA emails, released to the Natural Resources Defense Council under the Freedom of Information Act, offer more details on a grants review managed by John Konkus, a deputy public affairs chief and one of President Trump's political appointees. The documents show the review involved several appointees at times and often flagged EPA funds that were flowing to the Obama administration's allies and priorities, like combating climate change.

Career officials at EPA also pushed back on decisions to pull funding from certain organizations. They also tried to make the case that agency money could be worked into the agenda of President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Steven Fine, acting chief information officer at EPA, even used one of Pruitt's buzzwords — "cooperative federalism" — when defending one grant that happened to mention the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule to curb power plants' carbon emissions that Pruitt has sought to roll back.

"The proposed work connects multiple types of information that are not related to CPP but are relevant to the interest of EPA and states," Fine said in one email.

"The work unrelated to CPP is the vast majority of the proposed work and would support Agency and Administration goals related to clean air, clean water reliable energy production, and Cooperative Federalism," Fine added.

Konkus was not convinced by Fine's argument.

"This is not going to be funded and we would kindly ask you to alert the organization in the morning that the award will not be granted," he replied.

But Konkus was later informed that the grant recipient in question had sent in a revised cover letter to better address its work. That sparked a softer response from him.

"FYI this is how most grant discussions end up, the program and grantee work on a solution together to make the grant work better reflect the priorities of the Administration," he said in an email.

The grants review attracted scrutiny after E&E News reported last August that Konkus, a political appointee, was overseeing the process, which had been typically managed by career officials (Greenwire, 17 August 2017). An EPA spokesman told E&E News that the Trump administration wanted to be "good stewards" of taxpayer money. […]

Konkus flagged several grants that included climate change in their descriptions or linked to environmental organizations. He even recommended some to be pulled back.

In one list, he noted a grant obligated to NRDC to perform energy efficiency work, saying he and Gunasekara would "need a briefing on this one." The green group has been a staunch critic of the Trump administration.

Konkus also said, "No to this please," on a grant for climate change research.

Other grants for an integrated assessment of greenhouse gases as well as a study on air pollution meteorology and particulate matter also received a "No to this one please" message from Konkus.

It's not clear from the email if their EPA funding was withdrawn in the end. At least one group has confirmed that its agency grant was rescinded.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership launched in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, aims to reduce indoor air pollution. Its EPA grant would have been spent on a project intended in part to develop "an integrated and robust communications and outreach program," accompanied by biogas promotion activities, according to an EPA summary.

"This grant should NOT move forward. Thank you," Konkus said in one email about the project. [more]

EPA Research Grants Cancelled at Direction of Political Appointee



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