EPA Employees Organize Against Proposed Budget Cuts

16 hours ago
Originally published on April 13, 2017 7:10 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency would eliminate thousands of jobs, and the EPA's employees are trying to persuade their representatives in Washington to defend their work. Susan Phillips of member station WHYY reports.

SUSAN PHILLIPS, BYLINE: It's lunch hour in downtown Philadelphia, and dozens of EPA workers are filing into a union hall.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know who your rep is? MacArthur.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: MacArthur.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Got you.

PHILLIPS: Organizer Phil Glover addresses the group from the front of the room. He's come up from the D.C. office of the American Federation of Government Employees.

PHIL GLOVER: If you're in an area that has a Republican congressman, you have got to go meet with that Republican Congressman and explain what you do.

PHILLIPS: Marie Owens Powell works as an EPA enforcement officer making sure underground storage tanks don't leak petroleum. She's also a local union leader.

MARIE OWENS POWELL: The mood in the office is fear, dread. At least twice a week I have people coming to the union office in tears.

PHILLIPS: A low point for Owens Powell came when President Trump chose EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to announce rollbacks on air pollution protections and climate action, something these employees have worked on for years.

POWELL: It's not even the fact that the order was signed. It's almost that it was signed in EPA's offices. It's just insult upon insult to the work that we do and to our core mission.

PHILLIPS: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he will work with the states to promote clean air and clean water, but Jan Nation is worried. She's worked under other Republican administrations who also wanted to cut EPA's budget, but she says this time it's different.

JAN NATION: The president has clearly identified us as a target. He does not believe in climate change. We have Congress that is not really working together on our behalf. The reality is that our environment is in jeopardy.

PHILLIPS: EPA's union hopes employees can persuade, not just their representatives, but also their friends neighbors and family to speak out in defense of the agency's work. They may have some success. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows a large majority of U.S. voters oppose cutting EPA's budget. For NPR News, I'm Susan Phillips in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.