Furlough doesn't keep EPA workers from volunteering
While John Bradfield said he’d rather be at his normal job writing air quality rules and policies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he set out to help the environment in a different way on Tuesday.
Bradfield was one of about 15 EPA employees who donned gloves and work boots to volunteer at Sandy Creek Park in Durham. They spread mulch around a fence and used shovels, brooms and wheelbarrows to clear mud, standing water and sand off the park’s paved trail.
The EPA has about 2,000 workers and contractors at its campus in the Research Triangle Park. Since the shutdown of the federal government last week, furloughed RTP employees have volunteered to do clean-up work, repairs, landscaping and other projects.
“Having the volunteer time is incredible,” said Tania Dautlick, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Durham Beautiful. The group helped to coordinate Tuesday’s volunteer project. “We’re always grateful for volunteer contributions.”
Normally, Bradfield said he writes policies for the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. On Tuesday, he was shoveling mud.
“It’s a good way to act on the public service ethic that all of us at the EPA have,” said Steve Page, director of the EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, who was also shoveling nearby. “It’s kind of all about the public service.”
Page said he was working at the EPA during the last government shutdown in the Clinton years.
“This one seems like it’s going to be a lot longer,” he said. “The issues are certainly very polarized; the debate seems very polarized.”
Some employees already worry about their finances, he said. While he calls the possibility of back pay “welcome news,” he said that’s help that would come in the future, and people “right now” are figuring how to pay last week’s bills.
As the residential wood smoke team leader for the EPA, Larry Brockman helps to provide information on clean burning and other related topics. It’s a busy time of year for the team, he said, as people start thinking about how to heat their homes.
In a one-income family, Brockman said the furlough has also made him more thoughtful about spending. He said he and his wife were shopping last week and thought twice before eating out.
The possibility of back pay sounds promising, he said, but also had some uncertainty about it. A back-pay bill has passed the House and was pending before the Senate on Tuesday.
“Obviously, that’s a hopeful thing,” Brockman said.
Mary Ross, acting deputy director for the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment in Washington D.C., also was eager to get back to work.
“I frankly never believed it would last this long,” Ross said. “I’m just hoping we go back to work as soon as possible. If I’m not working for the EPA, I’d rather be doing some work for the environment.”