Congress should protect science, EPA workers who dedicate careers to preserving planet

The clock is ticking for the current administration to implement measures to protect science and the workers dedicating their lives to confronting this millenn...

Solving the climate crisis is our generation’s moonshot.

It’s the thousands of workers at the Environmental Protection Agency who are tasked with taking that shot – averting climate change impacts that threaten most of our nation’s communities is one of the steepest challenges faced by any workforce in history.

Despite the challenge and enormous responsibility, we aren’t staffed sufficiently. Our agency will never be able to tackle the climate crisis without building up a robust workforce. During then-President Donald Trump’s administration, EPA was effectively crippled, and we’re still working to right the ship. Even with a 6% increase in funding under the Biden administration, EPA still suffers from a staffing shortfall that should be unacceptable in this climate emergency.

Our mission has grown enormously, and climate challenges continue to escalate, but EPA staffing is at pre-2014 levels.

There is too much at stake for EPA to maintain low pay and failed retention policies. Tackling climate change will require dramatic change at EPA, and that starts with visionary, forward-looking hiring and retention policies for its workers. That’s why I’m on Capitol Hill this week, with many other members of AFGE Council 238 — the largest EPA union, with over 8,000 members — to demand more support for the workers who are dedicating their lives to protecting our shared home.

At the heart of our demands is the need to invest in a robust EPA workforce that is well-equipped to carry out the climate goals put forward by the Biden administration. In the past two years, Congress has added many new responsibilities to the EPA’s plate: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The BIL – a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness – enables us to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, tackle the climate crisis and advance environmental justice. The IRA invests in clean energy and jobs while lowering energy costs for families and slashing climate pollution in the U.S. by an estimated 40% by the end of the decade. Congress provided $90 billion under the BIL and the IRA for climate projects.

EPA workers are implementing key provisions of groundbreaking regulatory efforts to protect the American people and our planet. The country is depending on us to help avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. But EPA’s 15,115 full-time employees (FTEs) are not enough to meet the demands posed by the climate crisis while continuing to accomplish its core mission of protecting human health and the environment. The EPA recently announced plans to hire 1,000 staffers in 2024, which is a promising start. But to meet the current needs, EPA must expand its ranks to 20,000 permanent workers – and we need Congress to support this initiative.

It’s not only about filling open positions at EPA; we also need to create a workplace environment that helps us recruit and retain the skilled workers we need to fulfill our goals. We need to attract the best and brightest minds in science, law, engineering and technology to ensure our important work is done at peak innovation and efficiency. We need to make EPA jobs highly competitive or risk losing the best minds to the private sector. As such, our union is also demanding Congress create a specific appropriation for staff promotions at EPA, support remote and telework opportunities, and preserve merit-based hiring to ensure the best possible working conditions for our staff.

The clock is ticking for the current administration to implement measures to protect science and the workers dedicating their lives to confronting this millennium’s greatest challenge: preserving our planet, its resources and its people. The consequences of a second Trump term are crystal clear for the EPA: His administration rolled back more than 100 environmental rules and undercut our workforce, and there is no reason to believe a second time would be any different. Our agency will continue to stand for science regardless of the outcome of the 2024 election, but it is incumbent upon the current administration to give us all the tools we need to do so to the best of our ability.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories