In a rare show of dissent by government workers, scores of employees of the US Environmental Protection Agency marched Wednesday from their downtown offices to Boston Common, protesting Draconian budget cuts proposed for the agency by the Trump administration.
The scientists and program managers, joined by local supporters, worried about how their jobs and mission would be affected by the president’s proposal to cut their budget by 31 percent — more than any other federal agency.
Sandra Fancieullo, an environmental protection specialist who has worked for the agency for 28 years, never imagined she would be marching in the streets on her lunch hour, chanting, “The EPA saves lives.”
“This is unprecedented,” said Fancieullo, whose job is to curb water pollution.
The president’s proposed budget would scrap her $167 million program, and it could eliminate more than 3,000 of the agency’s roughly 15,000 jobs.
“It’s hard to put into words how devastating these cuts would be to our programs,” she said. “I’m desperately worried about the impact on our country.”
EPA officials declined to comment on the protest but they referred to a statement by Scott Pruitt, the agency’s administrator, who said the budget aims to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.
“The president’s budget respects the American taxpayer,” Pruitt said. “This budget supports EPA’s highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace.”
When President Trump was a candidate, he vowed to eliminate the EPA “in almost every form,” leaving just “little tidbits.”
His proposed cuts, which will be vetted by Congress in the coming months, would end major programs in the region, such as restoration efforts on Long Island Sound and Lake Champlain in Vermont, as well as similar programs around the country, including those that seek to restore parts of the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Puget Sound.
They would also put the EPA’s lead reduction programs in jeopardy, cut grants to states that seek to reduce harm from pesticide exposure, and curtail efforts to improve air and water quality. They would also ax much of the Superfund cleanup program that restores polluted sites.
“These cuts would cripple the EPA,” said Steve Calder, an environmental engineer who has also spent 28 years at the EPA.
Calder, also president of the union that represents the agency’s employees in New England, led the protests through the city.
Even if Congress doesn’t make the cuts, he worries that the proposal could lead to a spate of early retirements and a significant loss of institutional knowledge, as employees decide to leave.
“We provide critical services that protect human health and the environment,” he said. “We want to continue those services.”
The protesters waved signs with messages such as, “There Is No Planet B” and “Stop Global Climate Change.”
On the Common, the Rev. Fred Small, the minister of climate justice at the Arlington Street Church, addressed the group, telling them he loved them and that they save lives.
“Just as our armed forces defend our security, you defend our security by protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the natural systems upon which our economy depends and all life depends,” he said. “You’re not faceless bureaucrats; you are guardian angels!”
The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the sustainability minister from the Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, urged the group to continue their work for as long as they could.
“You’re not just the Environmental Protection Agency,” she said, “you’re the Creation Protection Agency.”
As she and the others marched back to their offices in Post Office Square, Abigail Swaine said she worried about the future of her program.
Swaine, who has also worked for the agency for 28 years, now oversees a fuel efficiency program.
“I think my program will be zeroed out,” she said. “It’s pretty darn sad.”
Some of the proposed changes, Swaine said, couldn’t be easily reversed.
“This is a slippery slope that we might not be able to scramble back up,” she said.David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.