On Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Michigan) addressed a crowd of approximately 70 media personnel, Environmental Protection Agency employees and environment advocates on the 2000 block of Traverwood Drive, outside the EPA office in Ann Arbor. The purpose of the press conference was to draw attention to severe cuts in EPA funding under the Trump administration that could threaten the closure of the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory — a part of the Ann Arbor facility that employees 435 people.
The NVFEL, part of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, is a facility that provides emission testing services for vehicles and engine programs, among other things, according to its website. It also certifies vehicles and engines that meet federal emissions and fuel economy standards.
In a letter to Trump, dated April 19, Dingell voiced concern for the closure, asking the president to reconsider the “misguided idea” when making his final budget proposal to Congress.
“Cutting EPA’s fuel economy and vehicle emissions budget would create uncertainty, cost jobs, and could potentially allow other nations to gain a competitive edge in this critically important work,” she wrote.
Dingell, who toured the laboratory prior to speaking, said the work she observed inside "confirmed" what she knows happens every day at the EPA.
“To the employees — the working men and women here — the work you do here every single day keeps our air clean to breathe and keeps our nation on the cutting edge,” she said. “You are our true public servants and your work here has got to be protected.”
Dingell noted the Trump administration is planning to cut EPA funding by $2.6 billion, a 31 percent decrease — the largest percentage cut of any agency in the president’s budget.
She added it became evident through a leaked budget document that Trump is proposing drastic cuts to the EPA’s fuel economy and vehicle emission programs, possibly resulting in the closure of the NVFEL — an act she deemed “unacceptable.”
“We need to understand what we have here in Ann Arbor, among us,” she said. “It is the world’s premier environmental compliance and transportation research center. This facility does critical work every single day to reduce the vehicle emissions and ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of innovation in this critical field, and that is critical to our staying competitive and creating jobs in this country.”
She noted the regulations designed in the lab have led to historical environmental innovations, such as catalytic converters, unleaded gasoline and the use of computers on vehicles. She went on to say the research and studies conducted at the lab provide background for establishing and monitoring Corporate Average Fuel Economy and emissions standards. She said policymakers depend on such work, as do consumers who are protected by the regulations.
Dingell said she sent her letter to Trump to make sure America becomes aware of the “jewel” located in the local EPA office.
“This is a national treasure in Ann Arbor and we will not let them destroy it,” she said.
Dingell noted the budget is simply a proposal and Congress has the final say in all such spending matters. She asked attendees to make sure their friends and family around the country know how important the work of the EPA and laboratory is.
Ypsilanti resident Catherine Daligga was among the rally-goers. She held a sign that read “Humility.”
She noted the importance of science and said climate change must be addressed immediately.
“Science is about the quest for truth and scientists are humble in understanding it’s an ongoing quest,” she said. “The answers are refined over time, developed in peer review, and without that commitment to an ever-diligent pursuit of improved knowledge, then we are lost. Climate change is real, climate change is here, it’s affecting us already globally, economically, socially, politically, in every way. We can’t afford a minute of going backward.”
Also in attendance were state Reps. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor) and Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor).
In an interview, Zemke noted the importance of student work related to the environment, emphasizing the need to maintain job opportunities.
“The bottom line is students from the University of Michigan, particularly the College of Engineering — this is part of the pipeline,” he said. “These are students pursuing their undergraduate and their graduate degrees at the University. They’re going to be doing the work of the scientists and engineers that is being done right here at this facility, as long as we keep this type of work going.”
He said the issue is not just environmental concerns but also concern for future jobs.
“We’re here to make sure that work doesn’t stop — that science continues to have the same impact,” he said.
Don Danyko worked for the EPA for 29 years, and was among the attendees. He discussed the importance of the EPA in regulating chemical emissions.
“Climate change is real — pollution is real,” he said. “The number of people who have emphysema, lung problems, cancer, we’ve got all these chemicals in the atmosphere and industry — there’s no incentive for them to figure it out. There’s no incentive at all. As a matter of fact, the way the laws are set up right now, you come up with a new chemical, you can make it. It’s like it’s innocent until proven guilty.”