Trump’s EPA Freeze: Start of Ice Age for NJ Environmental Efforts?

Freezing grants from federal agency will adversely affect a state with 118 Superfund toxic waste sites

President Donald Trump
It has not taken long for President Donald Trump to put his imprint on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal agency is no longer talking to the media. It is under a hiring freeze. It is no longer handing out grants. And it is freezing contracts to carry out its work to protect the nation’s air, land, and water.

The actions are the result of an executive order issued by Trump, according to a report by ProPublica and followed up by other media outlets. To critics of the new president, it is no surprise — particularly after his nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA, who has sued the agency multiple times, including over the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is uncertain how expansive or how long the freeze on grants and contracts will be, but even a temporary halt could have an adverse impact, according to environmentalists and a former regional administrator of the EPA.

“If it is temporary, it could have an impact, but long-term it could be very bad,’’ said Jeanne Fox, a former administrator for Region II of the EPA, which covers New Jersey and New York. “It could have impact on states, notably New Jersey.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the actions the beginning of a rollback of 40 years of environmental protection by the new administration. “By putting a freeze on regulations and funding, the Trump administration is declaring a war on the environment,” he said.

State Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), one of the Legislature’s most ardent environmentalists, agreed. “This appears to be just the beginning of the environmental catastrophes we feared,’’ McKeon said. “The latest reports cite him telling automakers this ‘environmentalism is out of control.’”

The freeze on funding could be particularly troubling for New Jersey, which has the nation’s largest number of Superfund toxic waste sites — 118, Tittel said. “Trump’s freeze will directly impact our state by putting cleanups on hold,’’ he said.

Other programs likely to be affected by the freeze on grants and contracts will be funding for water-quality testing, climate change, and pollution from stormwater.

In a busy day, Trump also issued executive orders with the aim of getting two controversial oil pipelines — the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone Pipeline — back on track.

Even before the president took office, environmentalists in New Jersey had expressed fears that the new administration would halt steps to combat climate change as well as renew plans to drill for oil and gas in the Mid-Atlantic region.

To some, the gag order preventing EPA staff, scientists, and others from talking with the press and public is also unsettling. “Curtailing communications from these agencies will hinder their ability to provide clean air and water and protect people’s health across the country,’’ said Sam Adams, U.S. director for the World Resources Institute.