Nestled between their agency’s headquarters and their president’s luxury hotel, Environmental Protection Agency employees gathered on Wednesday to protest the new administration and boo their new administrator.
“Stand up! Fight back!” hundreds of EPA employees and other environmental advocates chanted as temperatures dipped well below freezing in downtown Washington, D.C.
“Mother Earth to [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt: ‘Where did I go wrong?” read one sign; “EPA doesn’t allow corporations to crap in your water,” proclaimed another. A simpler sign got right to the point: “No EPA cuts.”
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Organized by labor unions and advocacy groups, the employees and demonstrators listened to nearly a dozen speakers who emphasized the importance of EPA’s mission and derided efforts to cut its funding. Longtime employees spoke of the nascent days of the agency when American cities were clouded with smog and rivers were too dirty to even touch. Members of Congress addressed the crowd, promising to fight against the Trump administration’s plans to slash EPA spending and lay off workers.
At any mention of the newly sworn in Pruitt, the boos were unanimous.
“This is not just a fight for the EPA,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. “This is a fight for America.”
The Trump administration is reportedly considering cutting one-fourth of EPA funding, with the goal of eliminating 20 percent of its workforce. Nearly two-dozen programs and grants would be eliminated entirely, according to initial plans.
“America needs a strong EPA,” said Nate Day, an information technology employee and president of the American Federation of Government Employees local that represents thousands of EPA headquarters workers. “We can’t let big money sacrifice clean air and clean water.”
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., told the crowd he stands with EPA employees.
“The EPA is absolutely vital to keeping us alive and keeping the planet alive,” Polis said. “What could be a more important public service than the Environmental Protection Agency?”
Speakers consistently denigrated the Trump administration for questioning scientific consensus, including recent comments from Pruitt in which he indicated carbon dioxide does not contribute to climate change. Diane Lynn, an attorney in EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance and president of a National Treasury Employees Union local, said the agency is suffering “terrible morale issues” due to Trump policy proposals.
EPA’s biologists, chemists, economists and other professionals came to EPA “committed to a mission to protect the environment,” Lynn said, “and that mission and their work is being threatened.” Proposed budget cuts would prevent those employees from doing their jobs, she added, and questioning “scientific integrity” would drive morale even lower.
Day, the EPA IT employee, said the agency had not faced such an existential threat in the 17 years he worked there. Cuts to the agency would not just endanger the American public, he said, but also hurt families who depend on EPA paychecks. Still, while he acknowledged morale was down, he said EPA employees would stay at the agency to resist its potential gutting.
“You would not believe how dedicated these employees are to the mission,” Day said. “Sometimes we’re tagged as being tree-huggers, and it’s true.”