EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
Photo: AP

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to reorganize some major offices that could potentially result in the cutting of a research program that funds work on the ways chemicals and pollutants are messing with the health of children and tribal nations. The research itself, though, would continue.

The Hill first reported Monday night that the EPA’s Office of Administrative and Research Support, Office of Program Accountability and Resource Management, and the National Center for Environmental Research’s (NCER) grants programs would all merge under a new Office of Resource Management. While The Hill reported this as a for sure thing, the EPA told Earther in an email that this idea was still in a proposal phase, with future listening sessions planned with staff nationwide before setting anything into stone.

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“[The Office of Research and Development] is proposing (emphasis hers with an underline, too!) combining offices and functions into a new Office of Resource Management, including reorganizing staff to the labs and offices where their expertise is most effective,” said EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman, in the email. “This potential reorganization would not affect anyone’s employment or status and the management of research grants will continue.”

NCER research grants are slated to continue under this reorganization, but the details are still fuzzy. Would the new Office of Resource Management take on this research, or would it fall elsewhere? Who knows.

This proposal, though still in the early stages, has been in the works for months, reports E&E News. The grants programs under NCER have been losing funding for years, so agency officials have been toying with the idea of shifting its oversight elsewhere within the EPA.

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Currently, the center handles millions of dollars worth of grants, including research projects for undergrad and graduate students, as well as research on children and tribal health.

“Those programs have been so successful in advancing our scientific understanding and our ability to address the ways that environmental chemicals can impact children’s health,” said Tracey Woodruff, a former EPA policy adviser under the Clinton and Bush administrations who is now a professor, to The Hill. “The children centers were really the first and only centers to uncover the relationship with prenatal exposure to flame retardants and IQ deficiencies in children.”

Even if the new Office of Research and Development no longer manages these grants, it would still manage records, FOIA requests, and budget formulas pertaining to all the offices that make it up. None of the staff in any of the consolidated offices would lose their jobs or be demoted. They’ll simply be moved “where their expertise is most effective,” per Bowman.

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What’s really supposed to change with this reorganization, according to the EPA, is who reports to who, that sorta’ thing. However, as Woodruff told The Hill, the true reason behind this merge is unknown.

“Is this really just an efficiency argument masking their real intention to get rid of the research grant program, which they have said they want to do in the past?” she said.

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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