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EPA to reopen DC headquarters after coronavirus closure

EPA to reopen DC headquarters after coronavirus closure
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reopen its Washington headquarters Tuesday despite opposition from staff who say it's too early to return to work as coronavirus cases spike across the U.S.

Several of the agency’s regional offices have already opened, spurring a request from the EPA’s union for a moratorium on plans to reopen offices.

“We do expect members of EPA’s political leadership team to return to the office and those returning should follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines to ensure a safe work environment,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt said by email.

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The EPA has said employees will retain maximum telework flexibility and will not be forced to return to the office. Employees have been asked to stay at home if they are at risk of spreading COVID-19.

But employees have argued the agency doesn’t have enough information on hand to determine if it's safe for employees to return.

“Without a national testing strategy and widespread testing, a key piece is missing for our understanding of how and where the virus is spreading,” the American Federation of Government Employees wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerBiden 'freeze' of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards MORE, arguing offices should remain closed “until the impacts of the COVID-I9 pandemic are more predictable.”

In a Thursday email to EPA staff, the agency said the decision to reopen was based on “an objective assessment, provided weekly by Agency experts” as well as local health data.

“In two weeks, we will decide whether to move forward to Phase 2 or stay in Phase 1,” the note said.