"To sum up, someone with no scientific expertise is deciding on science grants for reasons of ideology and spite."
—Don Moynihan, University of Wisconsin-Madison
In what environmentalists characterized as an "outrageous" scheme by the Trump administration to put "politics before science," the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now only issuing grants and awards if they are approved by a political appointee, the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reported on Monday.
John Konkus—a GOP operative who served as President Donald Trump's Leon County, Florida campaign chairman—now "reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued," Eilperin noted.
According to both career and political employees, Konkus has told staff that he is on the lookout for "the double C-word"—climate change—and repeatedly has instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations.
Konkus, who officially works in the EPA's public affairs office, has canceled close to $2 million competitively awarded to universities and nonprofit organizations. Although his review has primarily affected Obama administration priorities, it is the heavily Republican state of Alaska that has undergone the most scrutiny so far.
Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, made clear in an interview with the Post that the purpose behind having a political aide "screen" awards and grants has nothing to do with scientific merit.
Rather, Konkus's role is "ensure funding is in line with the agency's mission and policy priorities," Bowman said.
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Given the Trump administration's moves during its first seven months in power—which include withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and dismantling regulations aimed at protecting the air and water—environmentalists warned that the EPA's new standard for grants and awards essentially amounts to a ban on climate funding.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, argued that Trump's politicization of the EPA also harms "local leaders struggling to protect their communities from pollution."
"To sum up," concluded Don Moynihan, professor of government at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, "someone with no scientific expertise is deciding on science grants for reasons of ideology and spite."