What's going on with the EPA?

  Protected wetland area at Bonny Wenk Park in McKinney, Texas.

Protected wetland area at Bonny Wenk Park in McKinney, Texas.

Efforts from the EPA and other federal agencies are being put on hold as the Trump administration begins its transition efforts. What will this mean for research and education programs that are frequently used by green infrastructure professionals to inform local decision makers and design efforts?

Last week our team signed up for one of the EPA’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research program webinars scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. This particular webinar was titled “The Rapid Benefit Indicators Approach: A Process for Assessing the Social Benefits of Ecological Restoration.”

At VERDUNITY, we’ve benefited greatly by attending EPA-sponsored webinars and using the tools they’ve developed. The tools and data provided by the program have inspired us to think bigger about how green infrastructure and ecological restoration initiatives can coexist with development in our communities. They’ve provided us with a better means to more effectively communicate the need for this symbiotic relationship to the development community, planning and economic development officials, and community stakeholders. 

Information about the Safe and Sustainable Resources research program and the myriad of methods, models, tools, and databases can be found here.

We received notification yesterday that the webinar was postponed until late February. The notification showed up a few hours after President Trump’s administration ordered a temporary "halt on all contracts, grants and interagency agreements pending review."  This is standard practice with incoming administrations as it allows them to pause initiatives so they can be reviewed to determine how they fit in with their stated policies. 

“An America Energy First Plan” is one of six policy statements published on the White House website. It states that “for too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” The policy statement goes on: “Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

  Signs that protection and restoration of water resources and connected ecosystems matter.  –  Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Washington, D.C.

Signs that protection and restoration of water resources and connected ecosystems matter. – Anacostia Riverwalk Trail in Washington, D.C.

It’s difficult to decipher how this policy will affect programs such as Safe and Sustainable Water Resources. Time will tell. 

We believe that their work, along with that of many other EPA programs, is invaluable. Planners and designers working on the local level rely on groups like the EPA for verifiable data that we can effectively communicate to local leaders who are invested in making their communities healthy and prosperous. The more robust this research is, the easier it is for us to translate to the local context.

We’re hopeful that the new administration will see the importance of these programs and how their support is critical for planning and design professionals. Their research provides crucial information and tools that communities need—not only to protect and improve air and water quality, but also to maximize economic performance and meet the quality-of-life expectations of both the business and residential communities. 

The webinar has been rescheduled for Wednesday, February 22nd at 2pm EST. It appears that registration is still open and we encourage you to sign up for it. While we wait to see how the new policies affect critical research programs, we must continue to focus on how local planning and design efforts are and will continue to enhance our communities. We’ll return in a few weeks to talk about what those initiatives look like.

Mikel Wilkins, P.E., ENV-SP is a Senior Associate at VERDUNITY, Inc. He works with local agencies, developers and philanthropic groups to create public spaces that improve water quality, mitigate flooding impacts and enhance quality of life.

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