If Biden Wants to Fight Climate Annihilation, He Should Start by Staffing the EPA | Opinion

Over this summer, we all witnessed the devastating effects of climate change. Nearly one in three Americans experienced firsthand a weather disaster in their community. Extreme weather events are destroying communities and upending lives—and this will certainly get worse. According to the U.N. panel on climate change, severe weather events are the direct result of human-driven climate change that without serious intervention will imperil our planet.

These urgent warnings are not new, but it is now clear that climate change is on course to eliminate life on this planet. It is the existential crisis of our time—literally—and will reach beyond our lifetimes to generations of our descendants, should they be allowed to exist.

That is the devastating news. But there is hopeful news, too. Because we can still prevent this dire prediction.

As employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we know that the EPA has the potential to use our knowledge and tools to turn the tide on climate change. As the agency tasked with protecting human health and the environment, we have dedicated our careers to tackling these challenges, including understanding how climate change impacts our lives and our planet. Our agency's work is at the forefront of addressing urgent climate threats and finding solutions to significantly reduce carbon emissions.

But in order to take on the massive threat of climate change, we need to invest in those working to find the solutions. And what we don't have are the resources to do our jobs.

We at EPA know we are backed by a President who understands that climate change is real, recognizes the serious threat it poses to our planet, and heeds the urgent need for action. Just last week, after touring storm damage caused by Hurricane Ida, President Biden called climate change a "code red" for the world and emphasized that we have the power to prevent the effects of climate change from getting worse.

Importantly, a few months into his first term in office, President Biden has already put forward ambitious and important environmental goals to both adapt to climate change and to implement measures to begin to reverse its impacts.

But to fully engage in the fight of our lives, we need to staff up the agency leading that fight. Congress needs to provide the EPA with the full resources necessary to meet the need. And by resources, we mean people.

Biden Ida
US President Joe Biden tours a neighbourhood affected by Hurricane Ida in Manville, New Jersey on September 7, 2021. - President Joe Biden headed Tuesday to storm-ravaged New York and New Jersey, just days after inspecting the damage caused by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana. Biden -- who is pushing a giant infrastructure spending bill, including major funding for the green economy -- argues that extreme weather across the United States this summer is a harbinger of worse climate change to come. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The sad reality that we all face daily at the EPA is that our agency has been decimated by budget cuts and staffing losses; EPA staffing is now down to its lowest level since 1988, even though in that time, our nation's population has gained more than 80 million people, our mission has grown, and climate challenges continue to escalate. EPA downsizing further accelerated during the Trump years, greatly reducing our ability to do what we must do in this critical moment to stem the tide of climate change.

If we are serious about meeting the President's climate goals and putting up a fight to stop these extreme weather events and combat the climate-related threats facing our country and our planet, EPA must have the resources to meet the mission. It's clear the status quo isn't enough, and incremental increases just won't meet those needs.

We need to wholly reimagine the makeup of the EPA if we're actually committed to taking action. Right now, the EPA has just over 14,000 full-time employees. President Biden has proposed a budget plan that would increase agency funding by $2 billion and raise its headcount to more than 15,000. That's a good start. But it would only staff up the agency to pre-Trump levels. More staffing and resources are needed to meet the climate crisis we are facing head on.

Congress has the opportunity in the upcoming budget negotiations to make the EPA a top priority and deliver the funding needed for 20,000 full-time employees. That should allow the EPA to operate at its full capacity, fight off natural disasters, keep our air and water safe, enforce environmental regulations, and develop cutting-edge strategies to take on climate change.

Were President Biden to do this, he would be sending a message to our nation and to the world that our future does not have to be held hostage to extreme weather events driven by climate change; it is still possible to save our planet from disaster if we stop taking our time.

The authors are 12 AFGE Council 238 local presidents.

Undine Kipka, President of AFGE Local 3428, Boston, MA

Ed Guster, President of AFGE Local 3911, New York, NY

Marie Owens Powell, President of AFGE Local 3631, Philadelphia, Pa

Nate James, President of AFGE Local 2221, Washington, DC

Ken Krebs, President of AFGE Local 3347, Research Triangle Park, NC

Dianna Myers, President of AFGE Local 534, Atlanta, GA

Justin Chen, President of AFGE Local 1003, Dallas, TX

Crystal McIntyre, President of AFGE Local 907, Lenexa, KS

Tricia Paff, President of AFGE Local 3907, Ann Arbor, MI

Nicole Cantello, President of AFGE Local 704, Chicago, IL

Bethany Dreyfus, President of AFGE Local 1236, San Francisco, CA

Britta Copt, President of AFGE Local 3607, Denver, CO

The views in this article are the writers' own.