Washington, D.C. — The Bay Journal, an award-winning environmental newspaper, has succeeded in having its grant restored after EPA reversed itself in the face of a legal challenge, public outcry and pressure from Maryland senators. After EPA abruptly terminated funding for the Bay Journal last fall after a political appointee started reviewing grant applications, Democracy Forward filed an appeal on the paper’s behalf challenging EPA’s action as inconsistent with the First Amendment and violating the Administrative Procedure Act, among other legal violations.
The appeal argued that EPA’s decision, which was announced without explanation, was unlawfully motivated by the political whims of John Konkus, a Trump campaign operative with limited environmental policy experience tasked with managing the agency’s multi-billion dollar grant programs. It also noted that EPA had unlawfully terminated the grant without consulting the Chesapeake Executive Council — a bipartisan group of Chesapeake Bay-area public officials. After the appeal was filed, internal EPA documents were released to the press that showed Konkus pushing to terminate Bay Journal’s grant, explaining that in his view “the American public doesn’t trust the press,” and that the Bay Journal “should not have weighed in” on Chesapeake Bay Program funding issues by reporting articles about proposed budget cuts.
After legal, public, and congressional pressure, the agency reversed course and issued a brief decision restoring the original grant. EPA failed to address the constitutional and statutory issues raised about their grant process, choosing instead to simply restore Bay Journal’s funding and declare those concerns moot.
“We are pleased that the EPA has recognized the contribution the Bay Journal has played for more than 27 years in informing the public about the Chesapeake Bay,” said Karl Blankenship, Editor of the Bay Journal. “The outpouring of support we have received over the past six months from across the political spectrum speaks to the credibility of our work. We look forward to being able to return our full attention to doing just that — covering the issues that affect the Chesapeake and its resources.”
“This is a big victory for the free press and the First Amendment,” said Josephine Morse, Senior Counsel at Democracy Forward and lead counsel for Bay Journal Media. “We are proud to have succeeded in this fight for Bay Journal to participate in EPA’s grants process free from political interference.”
“We hope this is a wake-up call to this Administration that it needs to take politics out of its grantmaking process,” said Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward. “Normally, it would go without saying that our government can’t attack a newspaper’s funding over the content of its coverage, but unfortunately these are not normal times.”
Bay Journal’s administrative appeal was filed on November 20, 2017. Democracy Forward and co-counsel Arnold & Porter represented Bay Journal Media, Inc. on a pro bono basis in the appeal.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.