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Local EPA Staffers Look Forward To Life With Biden02:43
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The sun rises behind the U.S. Capitol as preparations are made for the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, morning. (Caroline Brehman/Pool Photo via AP)
The sun rises behind the U.S. Capitol as preparations are made for the 59th inaugural ceremony for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, morning. (Caroline Brehman/Pool Photo via AP)

Less than a week into his presidency, Joe Biden has already signed executive orders emphasizing the importance of science, environmental justice and climate change within the Environmental Protection Agency.

And Undine Kipka says the biggest thing she's feeling right now is relief.

Kipka is an environmental engineer and union vice president at the EPA’s New England office. She says the last four years — spent working under a president skeptical of both climate change and environmental regulations — have been pretty tough, almost traumatic.

"It was kind of like a culture of fear around everything, really," Kipka says. Though her regional office had it better than others, she says, she and her colleagues still worried that raising “sensitive” topics like climate change, environmental justice or diversity and inclusion training would get them into trouble.

"I personally did start, unintentionally, self-censoring around climate change," Kipka says, "even though I didn't really want to do that, or I wasn't really told specifically to do that, it affected the way I was working and thinking."

Steve Calder, a Clean Air Act inspector and union president at EPA’s New England office, says that morale was also low under Trump because of understaffing and overwork. Some younger scientists who wanted to work on climate change left the agency, he says, and older workers near retirement age decided it was time to go.

After three decades at the EPA, Calder planned to join them if Trump got re-elected. Instead, he says he'll stick around a while longer.

"I think most people who work in the environment nowadays — people who read — are concerned about climate change," Calder says. He says he's looking forward to "actually being able to talk about it at work."

"The fact that we now have a president who says he's going to support the civil service and plans to tackle climate change and take science seriously," Kipka says, "those are all good things."

This segment aired on January 26, 2021.

Barbara Moran Twitter Senior Producing Editor, Environment
Barbara Moran is the senior producing editor for WBUR’s environmental vertical.

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