Denver EPA office, like other regional agency offices, braces for consolidation

President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Feb. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Feb. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Steep Environmental Protection Agency budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration may well include paring back the number of agency regional offices from ten to eight, according to report published Monday by Inside EPA, a public policy newsletter publication.

Denver is home to the EPA’s Region 8 headquarters, which administers policy for more than 10 million residents of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. Region 8 stretches over six states and 27 tribal areas. It is the site of swelling western population centers and some of the most rural counties in the nation. It is also the birthplace of water resources vital to life well beyond its borders.

Inside EPA reported that the federal Office of Management and Budget instructed the agency to draw up a “plan of action” to consolidate regional offices in order to “realize efficiencies.” EPA staffers reportedly were asked to look for ways to share resources among regional headquarters and to look for lower rental rates on office space.

Sources could only speculate on the kind of calculations that might shape a coming consolidation plan.

The Region 8 budget amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars per year. It directly employs roughly 600 Coloradans and hires hundreds of private-sector contractors.

The fact that the Denver Region 8 office covers such wide territory might save it from consolidation, said Jeff Hart, a former Region 8 acting comptroller and planning director who is now a member of the “Save EPA” group of agency alums.

“Some of the west coast offices cover fewer states,” Hart noted, referring to Region 9, headquartered in San Francisco, and Region 10, headquartered in Seattle. “That might bode well for the Denver office.”

He also said that the Trump administration plan to slash the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative might be bad news for the Midwestern Region 5 office, located in Chicago.

“I’d also expect that other regions might have much larger staff than Region 8,” Hart said. “That might make them more vulnerable.”

He added that the move will tend to further distance regional offices from local environmental concerns and that it will fuel wider conservative plans to delegate more of the work of environmental protection to the states. Those plans, he argued, run counter to the mission of the EPA.

“The thing is, you just can’t count on states to equally and consistently enforce national environmental laws because state legislatures and governor’s offices are controlled by political winds,” he said. “What you’ll get are uneven commitments. Polluting companies will move to states that don’t enforce the law. It will be about the lowest common denominator.”

News of what may be in store for the EPA under the Trump administration has been making headlines since even before he took office. Environmental groups have sounded warnings with every new report.

In December, Trump nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the agency’s new director. Pruitt was until Trump’s election a most unlikely candidate for the office. He has repeatedly called for the agency to be eliminated in favor of greater state oversight of the environment.

Pruitt signaled how that kind of oversight might look in Republican-run states by suing the EPA more than 13 times on behalf of Oklahoma and the industries doing business there. Pruitt’s lawsuits mostly sought to weaken federal clean air and water regulations.

john@coloradostatesman.com

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