The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told a Senate committee Tuesday that the decision to cut grant funding for the Bay Journal was “under reconsideration.”
“I learned [of] that decision after the fact,” EPA administrator Scott Pruitt told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I think it was probably a decision that should not have been made in the way that it was.”
The agency cut funding for the 27-year-old publication last year, midway through a six-year grant. The Bay Journal, which receives about one-third of its funding from the EPA, appealed the decision and filed a lawsuit to press the agency to disclose records explaining its decision.
Staff at the newspaper had previously said it expected to receive $325,000 from the EPA on Feb. 1, and slightly less than that each year through 2021.
Pruitt was responding to questions from Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and member of the committee. Pruitt told Cardin he would also continue to support funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, in which states have agreed to limit the amount of pollution entering the bay.
Pruitt had promised to sustain that funding during his confirmation hearing last year, but the Trump administration proposed zeroing it out in its budget. Its funding will ultimately be determined by the appropriations process in Congress.
“I seek to be persuasive” with the Office of Management and Budget, which crafts the administration’s budget, Pruitt told Cardin. “Sometimes I’m not as persuasive as I intend to be. … I believe there has been tremendous success achieved through the program.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, another Maryland Democrat on the committee, said he is concerned the Bay Journal’s grant was pulled in response to critical coverage of the EPA in the newspaper. He said he was also alarmed by reports of other “politically driven” decisions on contracts, including one awarded to a GOP opposition research firm reportedly hired to identify “resistance” figures within the agency.
“We should have never gotten to this point,” Van Hollen said.
The Bay Journal closely tracks developments in the health of the Chesapeake and efforts across the six states in the bay watershed to reduce pollution. It receives funding from the EPA through the agency’s Annapolis-based Chesapeake Bay Program, serving as part of that office’s education and outreach efforts.
“It’s encouraging that Administrator Pruitt will reconsider the grant termination and is 'taking steps to address' this unilateral act,” the Bay Journal’s editor, Karl Blankenship, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the agency will translate his words into action and fully reinstate the Bay Journal’s funding.”