Oregon’s congressional Democrats call on Trump to unfreeze EPA funds

Oregon’s congressional Democrats sent a letter to President Donald J. Trump on Wednesday, calling on him to unfreeze Environmental Protection Agency contracts and grants, while also asking the president to allow agency staff to speak with the media and respond to Congressional inquiries.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley signed the letter, along with U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader, Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio. Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden did not sign the letter. 

The members of Congress told Trump of their “serious concerns” about his freeze on EPA grants, which provide money at the municipal, state and private-sector level for environmental cleanups and other projects. Each year the agency awards grants worth more than $4 billion, according to its website.

The money has had an effect in Oregon. Grants helped fund industrial waste cleanup in Clackamas County and Tigard, educate kids in Baker City, and pay for environmental assessments in Eugene, according to the letter. 

“At this point, it’s unclear how the freeze will impact awarded and future grants in Oregon and around the country,” said the members of Congress, “putting important projects on hold and leaving communities unsure of how to proceed.” 

Last year, the EPA played a role in addressing air pollution in Portland neighborhoods. Cadmium and arsenic had been pumped into the air for decades by local glass factories. The EPA helped identify the source of the heavy metals and measure health effects of the pollution.

The letter also called out Trump’s gag order on EPA staff, which bars them from speaking to the media or answering inquiries from Congress.

Trump’s order “flies in the face of the Constitution by directly undermining Congress’s oversight authority,” they said.