Temporary EPA freeze concerns UNC Institute for the Environment

epa

Some UNC Institute for the Environment offices are located in Whitehead Hall. The Institute could be susceptible to recent fund allocation changes through the EPA.

The administration issued a temporary freeze on all new grants and contracts for the EPA and declared a media blackout for its employees — freezing their social media accounts and prohibiting them from corresponding with the press.

The agency awards over $4 billion annually — about half its budget — in grants to help various partners, including UNC, achieve their environmental goals.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Myron Ebell, former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, said Trump will likely seek to drastically cut the agency’s budget and workforce.

UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters said the EPA has given around $44 million for research at UNC in the past five years. She said UNC’s administration doesn’t know how the grant freeze will affect the University.

Larry Band, director of UNC’s Institute for the Environment, said the department’s interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the reasons why the institute and its research are so valuable to UNC.

“When we work on projects, we’re trying to mix skills and find people with backgrounds across those areas who might not normally come in contact with each other and leverage their interests in these big multidisciplinary challenges,” Band said.

Band said some of the institute’s largest grants are master contracts on which UNC employees collaborate with EPA workers. One of the current EPA-funded projects is to develop air quality software to help monitor air pollution and its consequences on human health.

Kathleen Gray, the institute’s associate director for outreach and public service, works on a project that receives EPA funds through a large grant housed in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. She said the grant for her research might be affected.

She said the interdisciplinary work and research conducted at the institute are crucial to helping decision-makers consider the future of our state’s economy, health and natural resources.

“How do we sustain a healthy society? You can’t answer those questions without information about the environment around us — that is a fundamental aspect,” Gray said.

Band shared the same sentiment, emphasizing that the work of the Institute of the Environment and other environmental research is crucial for the future.

“The environment can have a pretty long memory — meaning it’s not just a matter of what happens in our lifetime and in the present, but what happens a few years or a few decades or a few centuries down the road,” Band said. “So we have a responsibility, not just to our own generation, but to future generations.”

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