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Photo: Norman Maddeaux / Flickr

Since Trump’s controversial nomination of Scott Pruitt, it seems the EPA has held its place in American news on a daily basis.

Mid-January marked a high step in the EPA’s agenda when it accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of installing hidden software in over 100,000 vehicles allowing excess diesel fuel emissions. Similar accusations were thrown at Volkswagen AG last July, and Chrysler is facing a maximum penalty of nearly $5 billion.

“Failing to disclose software that affects emissions in a vehicle’s engine is a serious violation of the law, which can result in harmful pollution,” EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Giles said.

Chrysler officials have denied any wrongdoing. CEO Sergio Marchionne explains that all documentation has been made easily accessible to EPA officials, and that the company has shown a regular willingness to cooperate over the years.

“We have done nothing illegal,” he said. “There was never any intent of creating conditions that were designed to defeat the testing process. This is absolute nonsense.”

Working to shield itself against the new administration, the EPA has also finalized specific rules regarding vehicle emission standards. Once in danger of being repealed, these policies will require automakers to produce cars and trucks that offer a minimum of 36 miles per gallon by 2025.

The agency is also refusing to pay $1.2 billion in claims filed against it over the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in August of 2015. Things led to a criminal probe after an EPA contractor was blamed for the damage, and agency members took full responsibility on the EPA’s website. Over one million pounds of toxins flushed into Colorado’s Animas River, which also polluted water sources in regions of Arizona and New Mexico.

But now the EPA is labeling the event as a “discretionary function” on account that it likely occurred at the hands of a contractor and not an employee. According to the Federal Tort Claims Act, the EPA is barred from “paying claims that result from ‘discretionary’ government actions.” As work on the mine was not performed by a federal operative, the EPA is prevented from taking any responsibility. Local and state officials are angry with the outcome, and are pushing legislators to make the EPA assume control of fixing the damages.

“We are outraged at this last-ditch move by the federal government’s lawyers to go back on the EPA’s promise to the people of the state of New Mexico – and especially the Navajo Nation – that it would fully address this environmental disaster that still plagues the people of the Four Corners region,” reads a joint statement from Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.

Following Wednesday’s press conference with Secretary Sean Spicer, President Trump signed a directive that placed an immediate freeze on all EPA contracts, causing any rules not yet in effect to be put on hold for further review. Among the environmental regulations halted were those pertaining to renewable fuel and pollution standards. The agency is also temporarily banned from answering emails or posting social media updates.

The agency is also temporarily banned from answering emails or posting social media updates.

The decision sparked condemnation from former EPA press secretary Liz Purchia, who said, “I just keep thinking how thankful I am there isn’t an emergency disaster the EPA needs to respond to right now… It’s one thing to get your ducks in a row, but to put a gag order on public servants and all agency activities not only prevents them from doing their jobs – it puts our country at risk.”

Many were concerned whether funds for wastewater management and similar programs would hit a bump in the road. Criticism arose from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in New York, who said the decision “could have damaging implications for communities across New York state and the country from delaying testing for lead in schools, to restricting efforts to keep drinking water clean, to holding up much-needed funding to revitalize toxic brownfield sites.”

In response, communications director for President Trump Doug Ericksen said that the freeze on EPA contracts won’t apply to “pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction activities,” and that it would only last through the end of the week.

In line with his promise, the Trump administration lifted the grant freeze on Friday, while a ban on communications still remains in place.

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