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Chicago from the air over Lake Michigan. Photo credit: OZinOH via Flickr

Trump vs. Chicago: Will the EPA Close Its Region 5 Office?

By Henry Henderson

President Trump clearly doesn't like Chicago. He takes a swipe at the city every chance he gets. But the latest salvo in his war on Chicago is likely to impact a lot more than just the Second City.


Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed had an item summarizing a rumor we have been hearing a lot of lately: that beyond the massive cuts already in store for critical protections of clean air, water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there may be a plan afoot to close the agency's Region 5 office in Chicago and merge it with operations in Kansas City.

The administration denies that there is a plan in place … sort of … calling press reports unsubstantiated rumor, but admitting that they may merge some offices.

But even in this world of #FakeNews, sometimes rumors aren't just coming out of nowhere. In this case, leaked EPA budget documents include some salient passages (bold formatting is mine) that imply this move is already indeed under consideration:

"Funding levels incorporate rent cost avoidance from several regional and headquarters offices Potomac Yards North, Region 1, Region 5, and Region 9), the decommissioning of part of the Las Vegas laboratory, and the release of the headquarters warehouse in Washington, DC.

Workforce:

The budget includes significant reductions in FTE. The hiring freeze will remain in place while the agency develops a comprehensive workforce reshaping plan. The agency will chart a workforce path that seeks to align capacity with Administration priorities, takes advantage of opportunities for more efficient practices and organizational structures, minimizes separation costs, and enables adjustment to final appropriation levels without major disruptions to the agency's work. Further guidance from OMB and OPM is expected to guide development for workforce reshaping plans.

Physical Footprint:

OARM and OCFO will work with impacted program and regional offices as work proceeds on the strategic review with OMB and GSA to analyze the needs of the agency regarding its physical footprint, including that of office, warehouse, and laboratory space. The agency is seeking opportunities to further reduce our facility footprint and/or implement planned and pending moves/consolidation in an expedited and most cost effective manner."

The Region 5 office in Chicago is the largest in the EPA. And much of its staff has specialized experience. A lot of that is already threatened by the ludicrous and dangerous budget cuts that have already been outlined, including the zeroing out of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, as well as drinking water, superfund and environmental justice programs.

The programs lost are bad enough. But in many cases, the staff are irreplaceable—taking with them deep understanding of highly technical and complicated environmental issues. When that specialized staff is gone, that knowledge is gone, too. The KC EPA staff is great, but focused on very different issues in predominantly agricultural states. With their own staff cuts to contend with, how focused will they be on the water and industrial contamination issues that Region 5 has been dealing with out of the Chicago office? The special interests holding sway over the White House are clearly banking on the answer of "not very."

How will the fate of the Great Lakes—95 percent of the available fresh water in our nation—be properly protected from distant Kansas City? The elimination of programs associated with the largest freshwater ecosystem in the western hemisphere is dangerous and short-sighted. Dumping the folks who understand it and have been tasked with protecting that ecosystem, as well as the communities reliant upon it. Well, that doesn't just hurt Chicago. It's a blow that will likely be felt in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana for decades to come. (New York and Pennsylvania, too!)

Henry Henderson oversees Natural Resources Defense Council's advocacy efforts as they relate to air, water, energy and sustainability in eight midwestern states.

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Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Over New Elephant and Lion Trophy Policies, Still in Effect Despite Trump's Tweets

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The suit comes days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abruptly reversed an Obama-era ban on elephant trophy imports based on catastrophic elephant population declines. Fish and Wildlife also recently greenlighted lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe, despite the controversial killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015.

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Thanksgiving Dinner Is Cheapest in Years, But Are Family Farms Paying the Price?

By Sarah Reinhardt

Last week, the Farm Bureau released the results of its annual price survey on the cost of a typical Thanksgiving dinner. The grand total for a "feast" for 10 people, according to this year's shoppers? About 50 dollars ($49.87, if you want to be exact). That includes a 16-pound turkey at $1.40 per pound, and a good number of your favorite sides: stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk.

After adjusting for inflation, the Farm Bureau concluded that the cost of Thanksgiving dinner was at its lowest level since 2013. Let's talk about what that means for farmers, and for all of us.

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Would More People Ride the Bus if It Looked and Felt Like a Train?

By Jeff Turrentine

It moves through city thoroughfares, towering above automobile traffic. It makes frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers. It has places to sit, places to stand, and—yes—rubber-tired wheels that go 'round and 'round, all through the town.

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Electric Car Sales Surge 63% Globally

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Starbucks Falls Short on Environmental Commitments

By Davis Harper

Since the early 1970s, Starbucks has held a special place in cupholders. Widespread infatuation with the company's caffeinated beverages has earned the coffee giant a storefront on almost every corner. With outposts in 75 countries and a whopping 13.3 million people enrolled in its loyalty rewards program, Starbucks has scorched nearly all of its closest competitors among major U.S. food brands (most of which aren't even coffee chains) in total market value.

With such reach and power comes tremendous responsibility. Starbucks touts its own corporate responsibility—claiming to be climate-change-aware and cognizant of its environmental cup-print—but how many latte-sippers know that their paper cup actually isn't recyclable and that it'll likely end up in a landfill? Might the knowledge that Starbucks's meat supply is pumped with antibiotics alter the market's appetite for the popular chicken and double-smoked bacon sandwich? Although the company prides itself on environmental awareness and progress toward sustainable products, multiple reports point to the mega-corporation's failure to live up to its own purported standards.

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