EPA Denies Report That Agency Targeted Alaska After Obamacare Repeal Failed

Rashah McChesney/AP

The Environmental Protection Agency denied a report that the agency halted grant approvals for the state of Alaska for two weeks after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) helped tank the Senate’s last attempt to repeal Obamacare.

“A state was never was singled out in the grant review process; grants were never withheld,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement.

The Washington Post reported Sunday night that EPA employees were told to stop approving grants for the regional office that covers Alaska on the same day that Murkowski voted against an Obamacare repeal bill. The order was later narrowed to apply to Alaska only, and a two-week hold delayed $10 million in federal funds for the state, according to the report.

Aides to Murkowski and to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) told the newspaper that they were unaware the EPA had delayed funds to the state.

President Donald Trump himself went after Murkowski, one of three Republican senators to vote down the Senate Obamacare repeal bill in late July, for her decision. He criticized her opposition to a procedural vote on the bill on Twitter.

And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly had threatened to retaliate against Murkowski if she opposed the Senate’s repeal effort. The two later made public amends with a tweet about a beer summit.

The Post also reported that the EPA has demanded that all awards approvals go through a political appointee in the agency’s public affairs department, John Konkus. Konkus, a former Trump campaign staffer, has told EPA staffers that he is looking out for “the double C-word,” an apparent reference to climate change, in grant applications, according to the report.

Asked about Konkus’ role in the grant process, Bowman said, “decisions about grants are to ensure funding is in line with the Agency’s mission and policy priorities.”