Amid ‘nightmare’ budget cuts, EPA closing its Richmond lab

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is closing its Region 9 lab in Richmond, consolidating some of the lab's services and moving others out of California. Critics say the move will cripple the agency's ability to conduct testing and analysis in the region.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is closing its Region 9 lab in Richmond, consolidating some of the lab's services and moving others out of California. Critics say the move will cripple the agency's ability to conduct testing and analysis in the region.

Each year, scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s laboratory in Richmond perform everything from monitoring drinking water to watching over some of the worst toxic waste sites on the West Coast.

The lab even helps respond to environmental emergencies of national significance.

But with “nightmare” budget cuts on the legislative slate, the EPA is closing its Region 9 lab in Richmond. It will be consolidating some of the lab’s services and moving others out of California, a move critics say will cripple the agency’s ability to conduct testing and analysis throughout the region.

Agency spokespeople have refused to speak publicly about the closure, but former EPA employees and union officials confirmed the move with Richmond Confidential. The EPA does not plan to renew the lease for its Region 9 lab — which is located on the grounds of UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station — after it expires in early 2019.

Local environmental groups criticized the decision and accused EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt of undermining the agency’s mission.

“Fundamentally, the EPA is being gutted from within,” 350 Bay Area spokesperson Rand Wrobel wrote in a statement. “The closure of the Richmond lab will undoubtedly degrade the EPA’s capabilities to analyze and protect its Western U.S. and Pacific U.S. region.”

Certain lab functions, such as monitoring potentially hazardous chemicals at Superfund sites, are expected to move to a new facility along Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Sacramento, most likely near Fairfield.

EPA Region 9’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), which ensures essential lab functions can continue in the event of a major natural disaster, such as an earthquake, is located at the Richmond lab and will also move to a new facility near Fairfield.

The rest of the lab’s functions, including testing, analysis and sampling services for projects throughout EPA Region 9 — which covers Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada — will move out of the region to Corvallis, Oregon.

“It will certainly have an impact on our sampling and analysis,” said Mark Sims, the president of Engineers and Scientists of California Local 20, the union that represents nearly 300 EPA Region 9 employees.

Sims said EPA officials in Washington, D.C. notified employees in June of their decision to reduce leasing space across the country. The EPA is not renewing leases at similar facilities in Athens, Georgia; Chelmsford, Massachusetts; Houston; and Las Vegas, a move first reported by Reuters.

Enesta Jones, a spokesperson for the EPA, declined requests for comment.

An archived 2010 pamphlet about the Richmond lab estimated that it performs up to 12,000 analyses each year, the vast majority of which support Superfund, the term used for the EPA’s program to clean up the nation’s most hazardous toxic waste sites.

According to the California Department of Toxic Substance Control, Richmond is home to two of California’s 98 Superfund sites.

Kathy Setian, who worked at EPA Region 9 as a Superfund project manager for more than 20 years before retiring in 2012, said the lab consolidations could be part of larger budget cuts, and might result in fewer employees.

In September, the House of Representatives approved a more than 27 percent cut to the EPA’s budget, including a 6 percent cut in buildings and facilities and $58 million for “workforce reshaping,” or buyouts.

“We are living an unbelievable nightmare,” Setian said. “The reductions to the core programs — air protection, water protection, all the basic protections — are being cut very dramatically. Every time we turn around there is something else.”

7 Comments

  1. Commenter

    Oh well, at least Hillary Clinton is not president, right “progressives” ? Maybe next election cycle you on the far left will have progressed yourselves into voting for the bigger picture and what’s best for all rather than petulantly sitting the election out because you didn’t get your way or voting for those who have no chance of winning. I can’t tell you how many millenials I run into who can barely look me in the eye today now that they can see how important it is not to split the liberal vote. Remember that even Bernie Sanders joined the Democratic Party and continues to this day to urge others to work through the party, not to divide the vote. This is a recurring problem on the left. Read your history and see why divided we will only fall and conversely the united right wing will continue to win elections and dismantle EPA, healthcare, and many other things those of us on the left and middle believe in.

    • Michelle

      I’m pretty sure the decision to close the Richmond Lab was made a few years ago, (under the Obama Administration). It’s unfortunate EPA would not comment on this article. A report from 2011 by the US General Accounting Office may have set the stage for planned lab closures. See report GAO-11-347.

      • Commenter

        Michelle, thanks for the information. Nonetheless we have a new head at EPA installed by a new head at the White House who both fail to see the necessity of a clean and healthy environment and both of whom are taking the department and nation in an unfortunate direction. Thus I will stand by my rant irrespective of the reasons for this particular closure.

      • Russo

        Your so right but bad mouthing the current administration is the goal . Not to share facts.

        • Commenter

          No, bad mouthing those on the extreme left who refused to support the Democratic ticket in the last election was the goal and main point in my original post. As far as facts go, the overwhelming scientific consensus is on the side that I am agreeing with, that global warming is a real and dangerous threat to human civilization to say the least. The current dysfunctional administration does not seem to agree even though Rex Tillerson himself has publicly admitted that global warming is in fact real.

  2. Marjorie Fischl

    It’s a sad day for our country, no matter the reason, when any environmental protection agency cuts are made that will affect the efficacy of the agency and their ability to clean up superfund sites and alert to new problems.

    • Commenter

      You got that right Marjorie. I couldn’t agree more. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if in some future time on a healthy, cleaned up and sustainable Earth some children are reading a history book about our time and remark aloud, “Wow, I can’t believe they even had to debate about cleaning up the environment.”

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