Outcry after report of potential EPA office shuttering

Posted at 4:58 PM, Apr 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-18 16:58:44-04

The president of the union that represents Environmental Protection Agency employees is making a pre-emptive strike against the agency after a report surfaced that the EPA plans to shutter a regional office in Chicago.

The EPA’s Region 5 office serves six states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The office also oversees major environmental cleanup projects, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and provided some assistance to residents during the Flint water crisis.

“Any attempt by this administration to close any US EPA regional office will further cripple environmental protection efforts, while also sending a clear signal to polluters to further contaminate the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Puget Sound, as well as our rivers, streams and wetlands,” said American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 President John O’Grady, whose union represents EPA employees.

Columnist Michael Sneed of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that according to a “city source,” the Trump administration could be close to closing EPA’s Chicago regional office as part of the budget cuts President Donald Trump has proposed for the agency.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, called the report “shocking.”

“If true, this report is shocking and I would strongly oppose the closing of the Region 5 office. We must not turn our backs on the safety, health and future of the Great Lakes. Whatever the deficiencies of the Region 5 office, the folks there do play a critical role in protecting human health and the environment,” Upton said in a statement.

But an EPA official told CNN the initial report saying the agency is considering shutting down the Chicago office is false.

“Somebody decided to pull a hoax. There are no plans to close Region 5 office in Chicago,” the official said.

The President’s budget includes a directive for closing of two of the 10 EPA regional offices, but the official said no decision has been made about which offices.

“EPA is focusing on getting results by improving environmental conditions and human health in places like East Chicago,” EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said in a statement. “Rather than focus on politicized rumors, we are working with residents to make sure they and their families can live in a safe and healthy environment.”