Well-wish­ers have been send­ing EPA em­ploy­ees cook­ies, thank-you notes

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY BRADY DEN­NIS brady.den­nis@wash­post.com

The cook­ies showed up Monday morn­ing, hun­dreds of them packed tightly in card­board boxes, and made their way to of­fices through­out the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s head­quar­ters in down­town Washington.

“To: EPA Staff. From: Amer­ica,” the la­bels read. “Thank you so much for all you do. You save lives. You make the world bet­ter.”

On the back of the cookie wrap­pers were per­sonal sto­ries from peo­ple across the coun­try who see the EPA as a force for good.

“Thanks to your work on air qual­ity stan­dards in North­west In­di­ana, my eleven-year-old child fi­nally has her asthma un­der con­trol,” wrote Sarah from In­di­ana.

“As an asth­matic, I have to say that not hav­ing sum­mer days where you can see the air, and where I have no choice but to spend the day on the floor gasp­ing for breath, is greatly ap­pre­ci­ated,” wrote Kent from Mary­land.

“Per­haps peo­ple no longer remember when we had rivers that burned (the Cuya­hoga), or air that choked peo­ple (Los An­ge­les) or toxic waste that poi­soned our homes and schools,” wrote Jerry from Delaware. “I’m grate­ful to EPA for their hard work pro­tect­ing hu­man health and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

“Thanks to your work on im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity and com­bined sewer over­flows, I can fi­nally kayak safely on my lo­cal river,” wrote Bethany from Michi­gan.

The cook­ies might have been the best-tast­ing bit of grat­i­tude to ar­rive last week at the EPA, but they weren’t the only bit. Amid hun­dreds of calls in re­cent days to com­plain about EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt’s com­ments on cli­mate change and the agency’s de­ci­sion to con­sider rolling back fuel-ef­fi­ciency stan­dards adopted dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, some call­ers took time to thank em­ploy­ees for their work. Oth­ers sent ac­tual cards, such as one a man­ager shared with em­ploy­ees that had a pic­ture of Yosemite Na­tional Park’s Half Dome on the out­side and a note in­side that said, es­sen­tially, “We’ve got your back.”

One EPA em­ployee, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the cook­ies, cards and calls were “bright spots” in any oth­er­wise “grim” time for many there.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get pro­posal, re­leased Thurs­day, would take a 31 per­cent chunk out of the EPA bud­get and cut it from its cur­rent fund­ing level of $8.1 bil­lion to $5.7 bil­lion. The agency would lose about 3,200 po­si­tions, or more than 20 per­cent of its work­force. Fund­ing would end for the Clean Power Plan — the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­fort to com­bat cli­mate change by reg­u­lat­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from power plants — and would be slashed for the Su­per­fund cleanup pro­gram and sci­en­tific re­search.

In ad­di­tion, the pro­posed bud­get would elim­i­nate more than 50 EPA pro­grams, such as En­ergy Star, which aims to im­prove en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and save con­sumers money, as well as fund­ing for Alaska Na­tive vil­lages and grants that help cities and states com­bat air pol­lu­tion.

“The pres­i­dent wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they over­reach, and the bud­get re­flects that,” Mick Mul­vaney, direc­tor of the White House Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, told re­porters last week.

Yet many EPA em­ploy­ees, who say they feel as if they’re un­der siege, worry that the agency is at risk of be­ing cut to the point that it no longer will be able to do its job of en­forc­ing ba­sic air and wa­ter pro­tec­tions.

“I have a cou­ple friends there who are just de­pressed and un­sure. It’s the un­cer­tainty more than any­thing else,” said David Mar­quardt, who lives in the Dis­trict. “I grew up in L.A. When I was a lit­tle kid, we’d have smog days where our lungs were just in pain. Kids th­ese days in L.A. don’t have to go through that, in part be­cause of EPA.”

Mar­quardt said he started think­ing about how he might cheer up EPA em­ploy­ees rat­tled by all the up­heaval. “There’s not much I could do,” he said. “I just know ev­ery­body likes a cookie.”

He got in touch with a friend, Dan Kaufman, who used to run a lo­cal bak­ing busi­ness called Bak­erMan Dan. Mar­quardt, with fi­nan­cial help from a few friends, bought enough in­gre­di­ents for hun­dreds of cho­co­late chip cook­ies. Kaufman did the bak­ing at Mess Hall, a shared com­mu­nity kitchen.

The pair then blasted out a ques­tion on so­cial me­dia, ask­ing friends, rel­a­tives and ac­quain­tances, “If you could say some­thing di­rectly to the peo­ple who work at EPA, what would you say?” Some of the re­sponses made it to the back of the cookie pack­ages.

The two men said it was an im­promptu ges­ture, but one they felt com­pelled to carry out.

“I’m a baker, this was some­thing I could do,” Kaufman said. “They were baked with love.”

Three EPA em­ploy­ees re­ported that they were grate­ful and that, pol­i­tics and bud­gets aside, the cook­ies were de­li­cious.

More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ news/en­ergy-en­vi­ron­ment

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