HOUSTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 Houston Laboratory, are calling on administrator Michael Regan to rethink plans to move the lab to Ada, Oklahoma.
In a March 15 letter to Regan, AFGE called it a “step backward” in his commitment to serve environmental justice communities in the Gulf Coast area.
Regan visited Houston in November 2021 as part of his “Journey to Justice” campaign tour.
The Region 6 Houston lab covers Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico. It conducts air, water and soil testing when natural or manmade environmental disasters strike. The samples are often used in determining enforcement actions against companies.
In a 2020 report by the EPA, the agency said “co-locating” the Houston facility to an existing EPA branch in Oklahoma would save $1.8 million annually in lease and facility expenses.
AFGE says the employees at the Houston lab have indicated they will retire or leave the agency, rather than move to Oklahoma.
“Decades worth, of knowledge and on-the-job experience, essentially, all completely lost,” said Justin Chen, president of AFGE Local 1003, which represents the Houston lab workers.
Consumer advocacy groups say the cost-cutting move will come at a cost to public health, worried that petrochemical companies, along the Gulf Coast, will not be as closely monitored, and the response to catastrophes will be slowed.
“I don’t think it’s a good reason and I don’t think it’s a credible argument. The public health cost of pollution along the Gulf Coast runs into the billions. I don’t think the argument that the EPA can save $1.8 million dollars a year bears any relationship to the cost of moving this lab out of the area where it belongs,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas director of Public Citizen.
AFGE says it hopes to meet with Administrator Regan soon.
KPRC 2 News reached out to the EPA for comment but did not receive a response.