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Trump, frozen grants, the EPA and the USDA: its about the water

Gerry Bello

When an enemy comes from multiple directions, the target is where their lines of attack intersect. In the case of current round of executive orders causing grant freezes and gag orders the attacks from multiple directions take multiple lines and thus have multiple intersections. One intersection makes a cross-hair on the forehead of government sponsored science in the public interest. Another targets non-profit profit science in the public service sector and directly threatens the lhealth of low income communities and the livelihood of the people who work to improve that health.

For the scientists, it is not just those working directly for federal agencies who must now have their work reviewed by non scientist political cronies of the twit in chief. The scientific community is both scared and now hungry.

The prospect of having your work reviewed so that you can get paid for hours in the lab already has many scientists living in fear. A friend of mine who is a professor circulated a letter from a colleague. It read in part:

"I am a scientist. The EPA was just directed to freeze all grants. This means that graduate students and researchers funded on EPA funds are now without funds. All ongoing studies are stopped. Scientists at the EPA and USDA are also blocked from communicating with the press or through the internet. It all happened in a moment with a memo, by executive action, with zero input or oversight.

Having a grant frozen means that money can not be removed from accounts associated with that grant. This includes paychecks for work already done. Basically, scientists, and more importantly grad students and lab technicians who live paycheck to paycheck just had their paychecks stolen by executive order three weeks after Christmas just as the credit card and utility bills arrive.

While this is one thing in the context of a university that might shift funds to pay, or a federal agency whose actual employees have some basic civil service protections for the time being, for contracted people it is quite another.

I once worked on an EPA grant funded project. It was a brownfield clean up. The pay was not a big amount, but it was on time and we did great work making what was once and illegal dumping ground not a toxic hole. Thousands of pounds of construction waste recycled. Hundreds of tires removed and recycled. A wetland rejuvenated. Had our pay been removed between the time sheet and the check we would have starved, work would have stopped, the non-profit would have failed and the project would have ended without our expertise as we moved on to any paying work.

How does this executive order actual translate to this catatrophe and who will suffer? The water supply in small cities and vulnerable neighborhoods that need their water tested and cleaned. Where do Trumps lines of attack intersect? At the wellhead is where.

It is easy to observe. Here are some of the programs that have suddenly been frozen and gagged. Consider the workers, organiations and communties that these small grants serve. From the EPA there are the following programs the jump right off the page:


Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): The Safe Drinking Water Act, through the DWSRF, makes funds available to drinking water systems to finance infrastructure improvements. The program also emphasizes providing funds to small and disadvantaged communities and to programs that encourage pollution prevention as a tool for ensuring safe drinking water.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF): Under the CWSRF, EPA provides grants or “seed money” to states to capitalize state loan fund programs that provide affordable funding with flexible terms. These programs can finance a wide array of water quality projects, including construction of wastewater treatments facilities, green infrastructure projects, agricultural best management practices (BMPs), and water and energy efficiency projects.

WasteWise Reducing waste from organizations and businesses happens by applying sustainable materials management practices.

WaterSense The program promotes the value of water efficiency and provides people with easy ways to save water.

Green Infrastructure Communities that implement green infrastructure can improve the environment and preserve open space to support sustainability and resiliency.

This is what the Department of Agriculture will not be able to do:

National Water Quality Program The goal of the NIFA National Water Quality Program is to protect and improve the quality of water resources throughout the United States and its territories, particularly in agriculturally managed watersheds. The National Water Quality Program brings university scientists, instructors, and extension educators into more effective and efficient partnerships with federal interagency priority programs to address water quality issues in agriculture. A key emphasis of the program is the integration of extension, research, and education resources to solve water quality problems at the national, regional, state, and local levels.


What Donald Trump just did was make a thousand tiny Flint water disasters happen in a thousand communities and he stole the paychecks of the scientists, teachers, technicians and workers who labor every day so that all our water is safe to drink. Thanks Orange Frankenstein. Thanks.