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Staff Say EPA Being Politicized As Never Before
(Beyond Pesticides, December 17, 2003) Employees within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say the agency faces unprecedented political pressure, according to a survey released December 10, 2003 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The survey, conducted among employees of EPA’s Rocky Mountain Region, also faults the honesty of agency public statements and reveals a deep fear of retaliation, particularly among managers and supervisors.

The Rocky Mountain Region (Region 8) of EPA covers six states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and the Dakotas. PEER developed survey questions with EPA employees and mailed out questionnaires to all staff in the region. Of the 675 surveys sent, nearly one-quarter (154) were returned.

The strongest reaction by survey respondents was concern about political interference with environmental decision-making:

  • More than three in four say that politics are shaping agency actions “more than they did five years” ago, with fewer than one in 16 expressing disagreement;
  • More than half think that “promoting the President’s Energy Plan and other Administration initiatives has become more important” than environmental protection, with fewer than one in six disagreeing; and
  • Strong majorities register a sense that the agency is moving in the wrong direction and is becoming less effective.

As one employee writes in the essay portion of the survey, “this administration has politicized EPA to an extreme extent.” An agency manager cites the need to put protection of the environment ahead of energy development “because literally the opposite is true at this time.”

The survey also reflects a significant fear of retaliation. When asked to respond to the statement “I am hesitant to perform controversial aspects of my job for fear of retaliation” nearly one third of all employees say they do. Significantly, an even higher proportion of managers and supervisors (42 percent) acknowledge fear of retaliation for doing their jobs.

One topic drawing more response than any from individual employees is the lack of consistent enforcement decisions. One manager maintains the best way to improve environmental stewardship was “being sued more often” by citizen groups. A staff person claims that due to “a lack of funding” that EPA ignores new toxic waste sites that previously would have been part of the Superfund Program: “Basically we can find sites, but then have no way to deal with them.”

“In the trenches at EPA, both junior and senior staff see science becoming secondary to servicing industry, especially the energy industry,” stated Chandra Rosenthal, Director of PEER’s Rocky Mountain chapter and who oversaw the survey. “Politics now plays a preeminent role in day-to-day work at EPA.”

See full survey results at the PEER website.