AFGE Works with Congress to Prevent Closure of EPA Lab, Brain Drain

AFGE is working with members of Congress, a coalition of unions, environmental justice groups, and a number of other outside organizations to prevent the closure and relocation of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Region 6 Laboratory in Houston, Texas.

AFGE is concerned that this closure and relocation could drive away employees with the skills and experience the agency needs to protect human health and the environment.

In 2017, EPA announced its plans to close the full-service analytical Houston laboratory – which serves Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas – and relocate the facility and its employees to Ada, Oklahoma, which is 400 miles away. Employees have been asked to relocate no later than 2023.

“The Houston area is the overlapping center of many environmental and public health issues spanning from environmental justice, American industrial production, large scale urban density, natural disasters and climate change,” said Justin Chen, president of AFGE Local 1003 representing EPA workers in Region 6. “The Houston lab is a crucial tool for addressing so many issues concerning the American public, the closure of this location is not only immediately harmful to my membership and their livelihood, but also to the broader public.”

“Many of my members have told me about the difficult choice of having to leave Houston or quit the agency, and the potential brain drain this closure could cause,” he added. “The EPA, in my own opinion, should be expanding its footprint in the Houston and gulf coast area, not shutting it down.”

AFGE, which represents 7,500 EPA employees across the country, has sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, asking him to reconsider the closure and relocation. On Nov. 22, the Democratic Congressional delegation also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Regan highlighting this issue.

“The EPA Region 6 employees who will leave the agency instead of relocating are highly trained, skilled analytical staff including chemists, biologists, environmental scientists, and facility support staff,” AFGE said in the letter. “The lab’s closure will bring the loss of decades of institutional knowledge, training, research, and expertise in critically needed fields including public health, environmental science, and emergency management.”

The relocation of the lab will also be a significant cost to the EPA and America’s taxpayers. Recent laboratory relocations have run millions of dollars over budget.

The Houston Lab is being moved from a newer facility built in 1990 to an older facility built in 1966 and extensive renovations will be needed for the Lab to be able to function.

The relocation will also require that additional space be acquired in Houston for the non-lab personnel currently housed at the Houston Lab and the government vehicles and equipment they need to perform their duties. This will result in significant additional cost to the Agency and taxpayers.

AFGE has launched a petition asking the EPA administrator not to close the lab.