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EPA gives all-clear to pollution grants for Minnesota

After a week of anxiety about reports that the Trump administration would freeze millions of dollars in grants for critical environmental projects, Minnesota officials said Friday they got word from Washington that all systems are go.

"They have completed the review, and those funds have been unfrozen," said John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). "We made it clear," he added, "that upfront communication with states would be helpful."

Earlier in the week Trump aides had sparked cries of alarm from state officials and members of Congress when they said the new administration would freeze some $6.5 billion in contracts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides to state governments and other entities until they had been reviewed by incoming officials. White House officials said that such reviews are standard during presidential transitions. But Stine said earlier that he feared the MPCA would have to lay off staff if the promised federal funding failed to come through.

The EPA provides $24 million annually to the MPCA — money that funds water and air monitoring, restoration of polluted sites around the St. Louis River and Lake Superior, and many other programs.

Another $8 million in EPA funds provided to the Minnesota Department of Health for drinking water and other programs also has been released, according to department spokesman Mike Schommer.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota receive about $9 million from the EPA, but a U spokesman said they had received no communication from the EPA and are continuing their work.

State officials said that as of late Thursday, only 11 of the 88 national grant programs that the EPA runs had not been cleared in Washington, and none of those applied to Minnesota.

Stine said he was told by EPA officials that the state's federal grants "would not be subject to further review."

"And that's what we are going to go with," he added.