Updates, #SaveTheEPA, Beach Act, Water Quality
January 24 2017

Freeze on EPA grants jeopardizes public health and environmental protection programs

by Mara Dias

The new Administration has just placed all grants and contracts run by the Environmental Protection Agency under a ‘freeze.’  Basically this means no money will be going out of the EPA to contractors, states, universities and tribes that receive federal assistance from EPA to run a wide array of research and environmental and public health protection programs. The EPA provides billions of dollars every year to fund programs aimed at understanding and solving current environmental problems, from toxic clean-ups, to air pollution control measures, water quality monitoring and watershed restoration projects meant to improve the lives and health of US citizens. Read more about the full spectrum of grants that the EPA manages at www.epa.gov.  

While it is not unusual for an incoming Presidential Administration to place a temporary freeze on federal grants while they review and assess what direction they want to steer federal agencies in, this current freeze aimed at the EPA also reportedly comes with a freeze on external communications, including press releases, blog posts, social media and new content on the agency website, at least until the President’s Administration can first review. There is still no information yet available on how long this freeze will last, put paired with the earlier announced freeze on all federal hiring, it does not bode well for implementation of public health protection programs in the coming months. We hope that the review can be conducted quickly so that EPA staff and their contractors can get back to the business of protecting our environment. Learn more about the freeze at: www.propublica.org & Huffington Post.  

The EPA uses its grant programs to encourage research and innovation and to help states and local communities implement programs that will result in clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. One program of particular concern to the Surfrider Foundation’s membership is the BEACH Act Grants Program that provides assistance to states to help them run their beach water quality monitoring and public notification programs. Funding for this critical public health program has been uncertain for the past five years, and we have worked hard to build support in Congress for continued funding to ensure that coastal communities have the information they need to know where it is safe to surf, swim and play in the water. Learn more about our multi-year efforts to support the BEACH Act here

In the short-term, this freeze won’t affect water testing programs at your beach this summer as coastal states have already received their federal BEACH Grants to help run their beach monitoring programs through October 1, 2017 in most cases. But if the freeze remains in effect for too long, especially past the April 9th deadline for Congress to agree on a final budget or continuing resolution for this year’s federal budget, then we could definitely see the effects start to show up at our local beaches. That could mean less testing or even a halt to all water testing and no warnings issued for the public when the water is polluted and unsafe for swimming.

This news coming out of EPA this week makes it all the more imperative for every one of us to stand up for the causes we believe in to demand that our leaders and representatives in DC are working for us and not against us. It could be as easy as clicking this link to send an email to Congress asking them to continue to support public health protection at your beach.  

Better yet, get involved and attend a Surfrider chapter meeting, become a member, renew or give a donation to support our network of volunteer coastal defenders. Surfrider volunteers are running programs and campaigns to ensure clean water and safe, accessible beaches in coastal communities across the country and the urgency of these campaigns is only increasing.  Please join us at: Surfrider.org/support-surfrider.

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