Energy & Environment

EPA employees push ‘bill of rights’ to protect scientific integrity

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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.

“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 Pruitt. 

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

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 Wheeler 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 Markey (Mass.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), and Tom Carper (Del.) and 10 representatives.

Tags Andrew Wheeler Chris Van Hollen Ed Markey Gary Peters Scott Pruitt Tom Carper

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