The UofA has not seen a disruption to the flow of research money from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has long supported programs monitoring water quality and the health of Arkansas watersheds in particular.
The Arkansas Water Resources Center projects that receive EPA money have not been affected by changes in the EPA leadership, said Brian Haggard, director of Arkansas Water Resources Center in the UofA System Division of Agriculture, by email. If the funding structure at the EPA is changed, it could influence future projects.
Last week, President Donald Trump proposed cutting a quarter of the EPA’s budget, as he seeks to increase defense spending. This would substantially decrease the money available for research grants to higher education and could eliminate some EPA programs entirely.
In January, a freeze of EPA grants and restrictions on EPA employees’ communication with members of the press received widespread coverage. The freeze was lifted during the last week of January, and the UofA did not experience any problems receiving money from existing EPA grants, said Marty Matlock, executive director for the UA Office for Sustainability and Academic Programs.
One new $600,000 grant for a project, which will allow UA researchers to work with communities in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi on urban design, is on hold. The project is a collaboration between the UA Community Design Center and the Office for Sustainability and Academic Programs, Matlock said. The grant was approved, but the money that was expected to come in January will not be received until early summer.
This is not unusual during a change in administration, Matlock said. Delays often occur while new people are being chosen to fill leadership positions.
“I think everybody is a bit confused. We hear a lot of things but don’t know what is happening,” Matlock said.
Trump re-approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines Jan. 24 and has said he will cut EPA regulations, which are referred to as burdensome in “An America First Plan” on the White House official website.
These actions give an indication of the direction Trump intends to take the country, Matlock said.
The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment and gives $4 billion in grants and programs each year, according to the EPA website. EPA grants are often distributed through state agencies and Native American tribal governments.
There are four active UA research projects that received money from the EPA, and they all involve water quality monitoring or improvement, said Stephen Turner, director of Research Accounting, by email. One received about $79,606 directly from the EPA. The other three are through the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and amount to $301,750 combined, Turner said.
The Arkansas Water Resources Center has received more than $1 million from the EPA during the past decade to monitor water quality, the health of regional streams and changes in watershed management, Haggard said.
Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times between 2011 and 2016 during his tenure as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, was sworn in as the new leader of the EPA on Feb. 17.
At least six of these law suits challenged EPA regulations air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Tulsa World Article in December. Pruitt challenged the new Clean Water Act rules in a lawsuit filed July 2015, which was dismissed by a judge but an appeal is pending. Three others suits were also declined or dismissed by judges, and a suit challenging the EPA’s new 2015 rules aimed at cutting carbon emissions is also pending.
Trump issued an executive order Feb. 28 requiring the administrator of the EPA and the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works to review the Clean Water Rule, which was established in 2015, and to propose a new rule to rescind or revise it, according to the White House’s website.
The Clean Water Rule was created to clarify the definitions of tributaries and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act, which reduces the need for case-specific analysis of waters, according to the EPA website.
“I hope the new administration takes a look at what EPA programs have been successful and which programs help individual states,” Haggard said.
A March for Science rally and teach-in on Earth Day, April 22, on the National Mall in Washington D.C. is being co-organized by the Earth Day Network and the March for Science to bring awareness to the importance of science in communities around the world.
The UofA is organizing an event to celebrate Earth Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21 at the Arkansas Union Mall.
The devaluation of science in society is an issue for schools and elementary education, Matlock said.
“It’s not the federal government that did that. It’s our local schools and local communities,” Matlock said. “I don’t think a scientific protest will be very effective, but civil activity is important.”