Trump orders media blackout for all employees of top environmental agency [Updated]

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According to the Associated Press, President Trump has instructed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff to freeze all grants — including funding for research, redevelopment of industrial sites, air quality monitoring, and education (among others) — as well as barring employees from discussing this or other EPA news outside of the agency.

This includes discussion on social media, and to reporters. For now, reporters and citizens are left to get environmental news directly from Trump’s channels within the White House. It’s unclear whether this Trump’s muzzling of the EPA is intended to be permanent, or if it’ll coincide with the temporary freeze of the grant program.

Trump’s actions came days before signing executive orders to advance construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines and expedite the processes for environmental review and approvals. Put simply, Trump’s order means the EPA need to move faster and perhaps forego some of the traditional study involved in ensuring these types of construction process meet current standards.

As for the grant freeze, it’s a seemingly unprecedented move that one EPA official says he hasn’t seen in more than 20 years with the agency. According to another EPA employee, hiring freezes are common, but freezes on grants and contracts were extraordinary. An email exchange by an EPA contracting officer (obtained by ProPublica) had this to say about the grant freeze:

Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.

Last night, Myron Ebell, Trump’s EPA transition advisor, confirmed the freeze and stated the actions were not unprecedented. “They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first,” Ebell said.

The Huffington Post acquired the following memo sent to EPA staff on Monday that outlines the current guidelines within the agency.

I just returned from a briefing for Communication Directors where the following information was provided. These restrictions are effective immediately and will remain in place until further direction is received from the new Administration’s Beach Team. Please review this material and share with all appropriate individuals in your organization. If anyone on your staff receives a press inquiry of any kind, it must be referred to me so I can coordinate with the appropriate individuals in OPA.

  • No press releases will be going out to external audiences.
  • No social media will be going out. A Digital Strategist will be coming on board to oversee social media. Existing, individually controlled, social media accounts may become more centrally controlled.
  • No blog messages.
  • The Beach Team will review the list of upcoming webinars and decide which ones will go forward.
  • Please send me a list of any external speaking engagements that are currently scheduled among any of your staff from today through February.
  • Incoming media requests will be carefully screened.
  • No new content can be placed on any website. Only do clean up where essential.
  • List servers will be reviewed. Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.

Update: When following the story as it broke we incorrectly stated Trump issued the gag order after signing an executive order. The gag order had been in place since before Trump signed the document, apparently in preparation of it.

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