Union group launches initiative to ‘save the EPA’

 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research vessel Lake Guardian transits through Lake Michigan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research vessel Lake Guardian transits through Lake Michigan. United States Coast Guard

A group of Environmental Protection Agency union employees launched a public awareness campaign Friday to call attention to the effects proposed budget cuts would have on the agency.

The American Federation of Government Employees’ Local 704, which represents bargaining unit employees at an EPA regional office in Chicago, including the Great Lakes National Program Office, launched a website, www.SaveTheEPA.org, which highlight environmental campaign issues and congressional proposals targeting EPA programs.

“What is the point of cutting EPA’s budget today to reduce the federal deficit if the end result is more illness and death due to a short-sighted focus on costs with no consideration of the benefits of spending?” Local 704 President John O’Grady said in a statement Friday.

The group’s website highlights “pending environmental problems” such as fracking and mountain mining, provides information about the agency’s strategic plans and budget requests, and outlines threats to its mission.

EPA is facing its third year of budget cuts. The Obama administration’s $8.3 billion budget request for fiscal 2013 is down 1.2 percent from fiscal 2012 levels. The current budget request is comparable to spending levels for the agency in the last years of the Bush administration. Obama proposed a 26 percent increase in EPA’s budget when taking office in 2009.

The website also mentions several riders included in the budget request that target EPA initiatives regarding clean drinking water, Great Lakes restoration, and mercury and air toxicity standards for power plants.

“EPA is being assaulted by special interests that want to reduce government to the size where it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub,” O’Grady said. “What is the point of cutting EPA’s budget today to reduce the federal deficit if the end result is more illness and death due to a short-sighted focus on costs with no consideration of the benefits of spending?”

The group described as “ironic” calls to cut EPA’s Smart Growth Program and its Community Action for a Renewed Environment, which provides grants to help local and state governments reduce citizens’ exposure to toxic pollutants. “Tea party folks believe that eliminating federal authorities and cutting funding for federal programs gets the government out of the business of state and local communities,” the website says. “What they fail to see is that the EPA CARE program does just that.”

The site also includes information for visitors about contacting their local lawmakers and includes links to resources about environmental standards in their own neighborhoods.

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