Environment & Energy Report

EPA Moves Into Next Phase of Office Reopenings Across Country

July 31, 2020, 4:12 PM

The EPA is shifting several of its offices across the country into the next step of reopening next week, including its Washington, D.C., headquarters, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Law.

The affected offices moving to Stage 2 of a three-stage reopening plan include Region 1, which is headquartered in Boston. The region spans Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Workers aren’t expected back in the office in Phase 2 of the White House’s three-phased reopening plan, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s offices will be open and staffers can return if they wish on Aug. 4, according to a Friday morning email from agency chief Andrew Wheeler.

Employees should notify their supervisors if they choose to telecommute, Wheeler wrote. However, “the option of teleworking rests with the employee during Phase 2,” an EPA spokesman said.

Staffers are also expected to return to normal work schedules even if from home, except those who have dependent care issues, Wheeler wrote. In a March email, Donna Vizian, principal deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Mission Support, said the agency was letting employees on flexible schedules work anytime between 5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m.

Previously, staff had to be on duty during “core hours,” between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., with flexibility to shift their hours outside of that block of time, according to a Region 8 employee.

‘A Balancing Act’

EPA employees should also perform self-assessments of their health and shouldn’t return to the office if any part of the test suggests the possibility of infection, Wheeler wrote.

Other offices moving into Phase 2 include facilities in Traverse City, Mich.; Duluth, Minn.; Naragansett, R.I.; New Haven, Conn.; Helena, Mont.; Buffalo, Albany, and Syracuse, N.Y.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Middleburg Heights and Westlake, Ohio, according to the email. Wheeler further said offices in Cincinnati and Ann Arbor, Mich., will move into Phase 1. Offices in Portland, Corvallis, and Newport, Ore.; Pierre, S.D.; and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands will move into a seven-day shutdown period that is a prelude to entering Phase 1. No specific dates were listed for those changes.

The Washington, D.C., and Region 1 offices have been in Phase 1 for 39 days “because I wanted to be certain that we did not move too quickly,” Wheeler wrote. “At this point, I am confident that we should move into Phase 2.”

He said the decision to move forward with the office reopenings “is a balancing act, considering both the gating criteria data and decisions being made by state and local public health officials.”

EPA employees have protested the reopenings, saying the agency is moving too fast in light of surging coronavirus infection and death rates. One concern shared among many employees is the risk of taking public transportation.

Earlier this month, the EPA said employees at risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus can continue telecommuting for up to two months after their offices move into the third and final stage of the White House’s reopening plan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com

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