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Lawmakers Concerned: Trump Freezes EPA Grants, Bars Communication

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4) - Some Colorado lawmakers say they are deeply troubled by an order by President Donald Trump to censor several agencies' communication and freeze grant awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On Tuesday, Trump ordered an unspecified number of projects that receive funding from the EPA frozen until further notice. CBS News reports funding will not cease from cleanup operations like the Gold King Mine spill, which polluted the Animas River in southwest Colorado in 2015. However, other entities that rely on the EPA for funding were not ruled out; including research projects at Colorado State University or forecasting from the National Weather Service.

National Weather Service (credit: CBS)

"I think what we are seeing is the opening salvo on a war on science," said U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder. "Indiscriminate on the consensus on an issue to attack the messenger, to force people to be quiet on conclusions."

Hundreds of jobs in Colorado rely on EPA awarded grants. Polis says he is not sure some of those jobs will have money this week.

"It creates an enormous amount of uncertainty. There are people in my district who don't know if they can go to work and get paid," Polis said.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (credit: CBS)

Trump has also banned several agencies from making any unapproved public comment. That includes tweets, responses to media inquiries, and according Democrats on Capitol Hill, communication with Congress. The EPA, United States Department of Agriculture, and Interior Department have all been placed on a communication blackout.

The ban was announced amid an ongoing feud between the National Park Service, that is run through the Interior Department, and the president. On Inauguration Day the National Park Service Twitter account retweeted a posting that compared the crowd for Barack Obama's 2009 Inauguration to the vastly smaller crowd Trump received last Friday. The tweet was deleted, but created a three-day controversy that included Trump Spokesman Sean Spicer declaring the Jan. 20 ceremony as the most attended inauguration in American history.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump (credit: CBS)

When asked about that erroneous claim on "Meet The Press," White House Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer for relying on "alternative facts.'

On Tuesday someone operating the Twitter account for the Badlands National Park rapid-fired a series of tweets about climate change facts. Those tweets were deleted several hours later.

(credit: Badlands NPS / Twitter)

CBS4 reached out to every member of the Colorado Delegation for their response to Trump's orders. Republican representatives and Sen. Cory Gardner did not return requests for comment. Several Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, released the below statements:

Gov. Hickenlooper: "We received notice today that the team from the new administration asked the EPA to temporarily suspend grant and contract awards. The communication was ambiguous and did not explain the duration or scope of the freeze. This freeze could potentially impact the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's ability to carry out its federally-mandated commitment to protect clean air, clean water and safe drinking water. We have sought clarification from the EPA and have asked for assistance from Senators Gardner and Bennet."

(credit: CBS)

Rep. Ed Perlmutter: "I'm troubled by recent reports that the Trump administration has placed a gag order on the EPA essentially silencing employees. Furthermore, I will need to look into their suspension of new contracts and potentially delaying current contracts to understand the impact on Colorado. While the gag order on EPA external communications might be temporary, forcing them to operate in secret is not appropriate. The EPA is tasked with the important work of protecting all Americans from harmful pollutants and ensuring everyone have access to clean air and clean water. The EPA, and every other federal agency, should have the freedom to communicate openly with the public and continue their work serving Americans."

Rep. Diane DeGette: "These reports are very concerning for a number of reasons, not least because taxpayers have a right to a wide range of information about federal agencies' work, and this is often communicated via the media as well as other means. But from the perspective of Capitol Hill, it is particularly alarming since Congress oversees all federal agencies and relies on unfettered communication with them. I am looking into how parts of the government that are under the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee are affected; right now there is a lot of confusion about how it's to be carried out."

Laurie Cipriano, spokeswoman for Sen. Michael Bennet: "Michael is extremely concerned about the president's decision to freeze EPA grants and contract awards. We are working to determine how this freeze may affect the Gold King Mine spill cleanup and monitoring. We also need to ensure that the freeze doesn't affect our ability to clean up contaminated industrial sites or to protect our air and drinking water."

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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