It’s a temporary win, but a win nonetheless.
AFGE is happy to report that the EPA has postponed the closure of the Houston lab our union has been fighting to keep open until 2027.
EPA has 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 were originally asked to relocate no later than 2023.
“AFGE Local 1003 is heartened at the news that the Houston Lab closure will be delayed until 2027,” said Local President Justin Chen. “The union still believes that it is in the best interest of its membership, the agency, and the American public that the EPA maintain a region-specific lab in Houston, TX because of its centrality to the gulf coast of the USA, the petrochemical industry, and environmental justice concerns. We will continue to work with agency management and lawmakers to seek a long-term solution to maintain this lab in Houston but applaud this decision that has been made for the time being.”
The EPA cited COVID-19 as the cause of the delay, but the agency also acknowledged employee concerns over the relocation.
“EPA has heard and takes seriously the concerns of its employees related to this relocation. We hope this new timeline will provide the agency with the opportunity to continue to work with our impacted staff on a smooth transition while ensuring full transparency throughout the process,” the agency said in a May 3 email to employees.
AFGE Local 1003 has been outspoken about the planned closure and has worked with members of Congress to stop it. Members of Congress have been inquiring with the EPA about the planned closure and expressing their concerns. In fact, as the employees found out about the delay, our union received a forwarded message from one of the members of Congress notifying us about the delay.
AFGE is concerned that the closure and relocation of this lab could drive away employees with the skills and experience the agency needs to protect human health and the environment.
The EPA Region 6 employees who will leave the agency instead of relocating if the lab closes are highly trained, skilled analytical staff including chemists, biologists, environmental scientists, and facility support staff. 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.