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Interior puts grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars through political review

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January 9 2018 read full Washington Post article here

The Interior Department has adopted a new screening process for the discretionary grants it makes to outside groups, instructing staff to ensure those awards “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration.

The Dec. 28 directive, obtained by The Washington Post, represents the latest attempt by Trump political appointees to put their mark on government spending. Last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a system requiring that a political appointee in the public affairs office sign off on each grant before it is awarded.

….Those include any award of at least $50,000 “to a non-profit organization that can legally engage in advocacy” or “to an institution of higher education.”

The EPA directive also targeted federal grants to universities and nonprofit groups. Although Cameron did not identify the total amount of funding affected by the new policy, and the department declined to comment on the matter, Interior officials said it involves hundreds of millions of dollars.

…An attachment to the directive listed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “Top Ten Priorities” by which each award would be scrutinized. The list begins with “Creating a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” and includes “Utilizing our natural resources.”

….the department had been reviewing grants and cooperative agreements totaling at least $100,000 since April and that “the new guidance continued the responsible stewardship of tax dollars.”

Although Interior secretaries under Democratic and Republican presidents have directed federal dollars to support their priorities, the new approval process appears to be without precedent within the department.

…“Subjugating Congress’ priorities to 10 of the Secretary’s own priorities is arrogant, impractical and, in some cases, likely illegal,” said Hayes, executive director of the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.

…Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said….“This grant approval process looks like a backdoor way to stop funds going to legitimate scientific and environmental projects,” he said. “Using the federal grant process to punish scientists doing important work because they disagree with that philosophy is unacceptable, and there’s good reason to think that’s what’s really happening here.”

Interior has ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to halt two studies that conflict with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production.

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