Udall To Wheeler: EPA Should Focus On Staffing Crisis And Environmental Enforcement

Udall To Wheeler: EPA Should Focus On Staffing Crisis And Environmental Enforcement

Letter requests further plan to address EPA’s real challenges, not budget cuts & organizational exercise.

WASHINGTON– In response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed reorganization of regional offices, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, requested a detailed plan from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to improve staffing levels across the agency, prioritize enforcement and compliance, increase communication with states, Tribes, and EPA staff, and honor agreements with staff and unions.

“While I acknowledge that the goal of the reorganization is to improve the operations of the agency, I continue to be deeply concerned with the ongoing efforts of this administration to dismantle the EPA.  The time and expense spent on reorganizing and renaming existing offices stand in stark contrast to the agency’s devastating staffing shortage and failure to meet minimal milestones for mission-critical activities such as environmental enforcement,” Udall wrote.  “I strongly recommend that EPA’s leadership turn its attention to these crises rather than on organizational exercises that do not focus on the real problems facing public health and the environment.”

“I also cannot ignore that the agency’s reorganization goals conflict with repeated requests to cut the agency’s budget by one-third and fire thousands of EPA scientists, engineers, and researchers.  The most recent budget request, for fiscal year 2020, would cut research by 43 percent, eliminate all investments in fighting climate change, and eliminate more than 37 longstanding programs with proven records at improving environmental outcomes,” Udall continued.  “I continue to strongly oppose these budget cuts because, as a member of the Appropriations Committees, I know from experience that important missions require dedicated investments.  If this administration wants to make serious impacts on improving EPA’s operations, I recommend it change course and seek the resources the agency genuinely needs to meet its mission.”

“As you and your leadership team know, Congress has rejected such drastic cuts to EPA for three years in a row.  In fact, our Appropriations subcommittee has not made any funding cuts to any EPA program – yet, the agency has lost 8 percent of its workforce since fiscal year 2016.  Certain EPA offices have suffered even larger losses,” Udall wrote.  “The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance has lost 19 percent of its staff.  Region 6, which provides services to several states including New Mexico, has lost 12 percent of its staff.  For EPA to turn around this staffing crisis, agency leadership must follow the direction of Congress by focusing on hiring and retaining qualified staff rather than allowing such drastic staffing losses.”

At a recent hearing, Udall questioned Administrator Wheeler about the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts that would severely damage the agency’s ability to fight climate change and protect public health and the environment in New Mexico and across the country.

Udall’s letter requests the EPA take-up the following actions immediately in order to make a serious, results-oriented effort to improve the EPA’s ability to meet its mission of protecting public health and the environment:

• Workforce Planning.  For each region and each headquarters office, develop a comprehensive workforce plan and implementation timeline to achieve the staffing levels provided for in the fiscal year 2019 enacted appropriations, consistent with congressional directives.

• Prioritize Enforcement.  Prioritize hiring of enforcement and compliance personnel and ensure that enforcement travel and other support budgets are provided at levels sufficient for current and future staff to fully perform work requirements such as inspections.

• Prioritize Communication with EPA Staff, States, and Tribes.  As EPA leadership considers future reorganizations and other changes impacting states, tribes, and/or EPA staff, develop and execute comprehensive communication plans for informing and also soliciting and incorporating feedback from these groups.

 Fully Implement Agreements with Staff and Unions.  In implementing changes that impact EPA employees, ensure commitments to employees and unions are carried out consistent with signed agreements, for example, agreements related to training, schedules, and performance assessments.

The full text of the letter can be read HERE.