A union representing employees at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Midwest is celebrating the end of the Trump administration. Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 said the president’s leadership has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.
Since President Donald Trump took office, union members said they’ve lost staff, pollution enforcement is at an all time low, and climate science has largely been ignored.
Dozens of staff members have left since Trump took office — including more than 40 scientists and engineers who still haven’t been replaced. Felicia Chase works to ensure drinking water safety as a geologist permit writer at EPA Region 5.
“Now that we've actually started to hire some new folks into the agency, it's been overwhelmingly White people that have come into the agency. So there's been no diversity," she said.
Trump also signed an executive order banning some diversity training, which Chase said is essential for the agency’s environmental justice work.
Union Local President Nicole Cantello said enforcing pollution control laws is most of what they do in EPA Region 5.
Though the budget and staff for enforcement has been going down for about a decade, she said enforcement in these past four years has been even lower. That’s partially because of the agency’s decision not to enforce some penalties due to COVID-19.
“We, as union members, are incredibly worried about that because we believe our job is to protect the people and the air and the water," Cantello said.
Loreen Targos is a physical scientist in the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office. She said staff don’t feel like their work is being respected. Targos said she’s seen a colleague have their analysis thrown out because it didn’t align with the administration’s politics.
“Scientists day to day aren't really caught up in the political whims of Washington, and so to see it affect their work — when they've just been rigorous professionals their whole lives — is very demoralizing," Targos said.
Union members are hopeful that the EPA under President-elect Joe Biden will focus on pollution enforcement, climate change and environmental justice.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.