For Immediate Release: Monday, June 8, 2020
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
EPA Halts Re-Opening New England Office
Data Shows Infections Still Exceed CDC “Gating Criteria” for Phase One
Boston — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has abruptly reversed its plan to start re-opening its New England regional office due to increasing COVID-19 cases area around Boston, according to agency communications posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA had previously announced it would also open its regional offices located in Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle, but those plans may be inoperative, as well.
The late Friday announcement by EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel represents the second reversal on re-opening in just one week. EPA had told employees that it did not meet the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) “gating” criteria for re-opening on May 28th, but that changed the following day when Deziel told regional employees that the criteria were met, and the first stage of re-opening the New England office was imminent.
That all changed – again – with his June 5, 2019 all-hands email which disclosed that –
“During the review of 14-day trend data this week for Boston, Chelmsford, and Woburn, our Agency experts determined that the gating criteria to enter Phase 1 were not met and are in fact now trending upwards.”
The gating criteria for Phase One reopening required a decline in COVID-like illness symptoms within 14-day period. Yet, the accompanying graph Deziel provided indicated that infections had started increasing on May 26th and continued upward. It is unclear why the gating criteria would have been met on May 28th, but not on the following day. Nor is it clear why EPA decision-making was based upon data for only a portion of Massachusetts, and also did not include other states, such as Rhode Island and New Hampshire, where a number of EPA employees live.
“It is critical that an agency with a public health mandate, such as EPA, not act to jeopardize the health of its own employees, their families, and the surrounding communities,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, pointing out that the available data indicate that COVID-like illnesses averaged over the states from which employees commute were not included, as required by the Centers for Disease Control. “By trying to satisfy White House demands that federal agencies project the façade of normalcy, EPA came very close to creating a potential calamity.”
For the past two weeks, EPA employees and unions have repeatedly complained the agency is not sharing key information about what it plans to do or answer questions about an array of issues. In so doing, EPA is flouting a central CDC precept for office re-opening:
“Talk with your employees about planned changes and seek their input. Additionally, collaborate with employees and unions to effectively communicate important COVID-19 information.”
“EPA needs to start doing a much better job collaborating with its employees and their union representatives,” Bennett added. “As evidenced by the actions of the White House and its political appointees inside EPA, they do not have a coherent approach for handling this ongoing pandemic.”