EPA union calls for climate emergency declaration to hire more staff

The EPA’s largest union, signaling its displeasure with the White House’s level of climate action, will call on the Biden administration to declare a national climate emergency and take other ambitious climate action. environment.

The national emergency declaration would kick off 123 statutory powers not otherwise available to the executive branch, according to at the Brennan Center for Justice. Among them is hiring more climate scientists, engineers and lawyers at the EPA, a goal shared by both the Federation of American Government Employees Council 238 and the Biden administration.

The request represents a marker for Council 238 of the American Federation of Government Employees when it sits down with the Environmental Protection Agency on June 13 to negotiate a new contract.

“It might be a move-the-goalposts type idea,” said Joyce Howell, the union’s chief negotiator and attorney at the EPA’s Philadelphia office. “There is a window of opportunity for significant advances in the federal labor movement right now thanks to our president, so why not swing for the fences?”

A national climate emergency proposal is a popular idea among progressive Democrats. Among them is Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.), who called Biden to make such a statement soon after the president took office.

But it gained little traction. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a bill (HR 794) in February 2021 that attracted 53 Democratic co-sponsors, but has languished ever since.

Export ban, clean energy standard

The union, which represents 7,500 of the EPA’s 14,300 employees, also wants the White House to reinstate a crude oil export ban under the National Emergencies Act and Defense Production Act; promulgate a clean energy standard to decarbonize the electricity sector by 2035; and impose a moratorium on the licensing of fossil fuel facilities and infrastructure.

“So far in the administration, Biden really hasn’t addressed climate. At the EPA, we haven’t seen the level of climate action we want to see. He’s issued EOs (Executive Orders ), but we can do so much more,” said Nicole Cantello, president of AFGE Local 704 in Chicago.

“There’s so much EPA workers have to give to address the climate emergency that we’re not giving right now,” she added. “But we haven’t been deployed, and the nation isn’t giving us the tools to deal with the climate emergency.”

Other demands include loan guarantees for renewable energy development, reducing carbon emissions in federal agencies, and decarbonizing federal financial spending, including the Thrift Savings Plan that provides retirement savings to federal employees.

Some of the demands will also be made during the union’s upcoming contract negotiations with the EPA, though some of them are only included in the preamble that sets out the union’s aspirations, said Howell, the union’s negotiator.

Display of members

Dan Bowling, a professor of labor relations at Duke University School of Law, said unions typically raise demands outside of bargaining to “make different groups of activists happy within the union. “.

But many of AFGE’s demands fall well within the scope of the negotiation, such as codifying a policy of scientific integrity into the contract, which makes it significantly more difficult for a future administration to backtrack, according to Cantello. .

The EPA has taken several steps to solidify its scientific integrity policy under the leadership of Administrator Michael Regan. At an agency-wide meeting in March 2021, Francesca Grifo, EPA Scientific Integrity Officer, outlined steps the agency will take to strengthen standards of honesty and rigor. , transparency, commitment to evidence and peer review.

Cantello also said the union would negotiate promotions to allow EPA scientists, engineers and lawyers to earn more pay.

Howell said she expects contract negotiations to be difficult.

“Sometimes I see flashes that the agency heard [President Joe] Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris’ message, which is: “Let’s work to empower unions and the workforce,” she said. “But what I still see is that instead of collaboration, we get a win-lose type of mindset. There seems to be a mental block as to why we can’t achieve to a collaborative framework.

As an example, Howell said the EPA gave AFGE members a shared bank of just 50 hours of official time per week to write their contract proposal. The limit forces union leaders to work nights and weekends to push their proposal forward, Howell said.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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