EPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity

EPA employees push 'bill of rights' to protect scientific integrity

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unionized employees have drafted a bill of rights, asking the agency to recognize the need for scientific integrity, research into climate science and the ability to enforce environmental laws without political interference.

The bill of rights comes as the agency and the union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), sits down to hammer out a new contract following complaints from employees that the EPA unilaterally imposed the last one without their consent.

It also follows years of complaints from those inside and outside of the EPA that the agency has been sidelining the scientific advice of staff.

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“EPA employees have committed our careers to protecting human health and the environment, working day-in and day-out to keep our air clean, ensure our water is safe to drink, and clean up our land so that we may live and work on it,” Bethany Dreyfus, AFGE Local 1236 president, said in a statement. “Yet time and time again, the Administration has attempted to silence research and gut our labor rights. That’s why we’re not just standing up for a fair contract, we’re fighting to be able to do our jobs and protect public health — and we’ll keep fighting until our voices are truly heard.”

The bill of rights asks for a fair contract in the negotiations, but it mainly pushes for worker protections related to the agency’s mission.

It specifically asks for whistleblower protections and “a right to protect human health and the environment, to protect environmental justice communities, and to work without fear of reprisal.”

One EPA whistleblower said he was put on administrative leave in 2018 as a reprisal after pushing back against decisions from former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' Court sides with scientists on EPA policy barring grantees from serving on agency boards Overnight Energy: Senate energy bill stalled amid amendment fight | Coronavirus, oil prices drive market meltdown | Green groups say Dem climate plan doesn't go far enough MORE

The agency has also been criticized for sidelining employees and scientists with its policy rollouts. 

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Reporting from The New York Times found the EPA ignored staff advice when crafting a new asbestos rule that was criticized for not being ambitious enough. 

Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Trump floats oil tariffs amid Russia-Saudi dispute | Warren knocks EPA over 'highly dangerous' enforcement rollback | 2019 sees big increase in methane levels in air Warren, Markey knock EPA over 'highly dangerous and irresponsible' rollback amid pandemic Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE in June apologized to the agency’s Science Advisory Board for not better relying on their independent scientific review. On Dec. 31, the board questioned the scientific underpinnings of a number of planned rules — including one expected to limit the number of scientific studies the EPA relies on when making new rules.

“EPA has established, and continues to promote, a culture of scientific integrity for all of its employees. This policy provides a framework intended to ensure scientific integrity throughout the EPA and promote scientific and ethical standards. The policy allows for perceived misconduct to be reported for investigation,” a spokesman for the agency said in a statement to The Hill.

“Additionally, EPA and AFGE are returning to the bargaining table today and will be negotiating a number of articles, which include both Employee’s rights and Union’s rights.”

The employees’ bill of rights got the backing of several Democratic members of Congress, including Sens. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocratic senators question Google over decision to release coronavirus location data Why being connected really matters for students On The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials 'looking at' offering coronavirus bonds MORE (Mass.), Gary PetersGary Charles PetersGOP challenger outraises Michigan's Sen. Peters in first quarter The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Senate Democrats propose ,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers MORE (Mich.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocrats struggle to keep up with Trump messaging on coronavirus Pentagon gets heat over protecting service members from coronavirus Overnight Defense: Lawmakers call for probe into aircraft carrier captain's firing | Sailors cheer ousted commander | Hospital ship to ease screening process for patients MORE (Md.), and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Trump administration rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards MORE (Del.) and 10 representatives.