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College students, EPA employees rally in Center City against proposed budget cuts

Frank Kummer, Philly.com

Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017, 4:26 PM

Rebecca Levitsky, 20, a Temple University junior, spoke at a rally of EPA employees, college students and activists outside the EPA Region 3 headquarters at 17th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia Sept. 28, 2017, to protest proposed budget cuts.

Rebecca Levitsky, a junior at Temple University, took to the microphone outside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offices in Center City Philadelphia as one of about 30 people who rallied Thursday against a proposed slashing of the agency’s budget and large-scale buyouts already underway.

“Eighty percent of young people of all political persuasions believe that climate change is the most important or one of the most important issues facing our generation,” Levitsky said to the passing lunchtime crowd, many of them coming from the Comcast Center across the street.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would cut the EPA’s budget to $7.5 billion for 2018 — about $500 million less than President Trump’s original proposal. The bill includes money to pay for buyouts. The budget process, however, is continuing. The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

“To cripple the federal agency that is responsible for keeping corporate polluters in check and offering solutions to climate change is to deny us and our generation human and economic health,” she said. “As millennials it is our duty to act on climate not only for our sake but for the sake of those to come.”

The rally was coordinated by the student-led organization Defend Our Future with American Federation of Government Employees Local 3631, which represents EPA workers at the Philadelphia office.

Philadelphia is headquarters for EPA Region 3, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. In this region, the EPA is targeting a maximum of 159 workers for buyouts and early retirements, or nearly one-fifth of its approximately 795 employees.

Of that number, 136 were expected to come from the Philadelphia office. The buyouts, also offered to non-union employees, are voluntary. So far, about 53 workers have taken buyouts.

“This is about the past, present and future,” said Gary Morton, president of Local 3631. “We don’t want to go back to the past, to the way it was. Things are working now in the present. We want to protect the future.”

He said those that have accepted buyouts from the office, “are taking institutional knowledge with them.”

Joyce Howell, an attorney with the Philadelphia office, said she’s been with the EPA 25 years but refused to take a buyout.

“I’m here to show support and draw public attention to budget cuts,” she said.

Colin Pepper, 28, an organizer with Defend Our Future, said about eight students from Temple and Drexel attended the rally.

“We need to save the EPA,” Pepper said. “They are our first line of defense on water and air pollution. It’s the biggest issue of our generation.”

Mollie Senior, a Temple student, center, collects signatures during a rally by EPA employees, college students and activists outside the EPA Region 3 headquarters at 17th and Arch streets in Philadelphia Sept. 28, 2017 to protest proposed budget cuts.

Meanwhile, Mollie Senior, an 18-year-old Temple student, was busy collecting signatures for a petition on the cuts.

“I think climate change is such an overlooked issue,” said the environmental engineering student. “Ignoring it isn’t going to make the problem go away.”

Frank Kummer, Philly.com

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