Washington, DC — In a surprising reversal, the Romney Administration has re-opened the same state Department of Environmental Protection regional office that it had closed nearly three years ago, according to an agency posting released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. In July 2003, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney closed the DEP Northeastern Regional Office (NERO) located in Wilmington. This month, DEP announced the regional office was re-opened in Wilmington.
“The Romney administration should apologize for the time, money and effort wasted by its ill-considered move back in 2003,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett who worked with DEP employees to protest the move and document the damage that it had done. “By their announcement one would think that the Romney team has just discovered that it makes sense to have the inspectors and other enforcement staff located near where the pollution violations occur.”
Besides moving the NERO office to Boston, the Romney administration had also proposed collapsing the Southeastern Regional Office but dropped the plan in the face of negative reactions to its relocation of NERO and threatened legislative intervention. In a further flip-flop, the Romney administration is today proposing to create a new satellite office in Cape Cod to extend the reach of the Southeastern Regional Office that it earlier wanted closed altogether.
Back in 2003, New England PEER surveyed all NERO employees affected by the move. By overwhelming percentages, the NERO respondents said that the relocation has hindered the agency from fulfilling its “environmental mission” (95%), weakened environmental enforcement (89%) and hampered DEP effectiveness (88%). The vast majority also reported fewer unscheduled inspections (93%) and decreased anti-pollution presence in affected communities (83%). Moreover, affected businesses have had a negative reaction to the move and the diminished services according to 80% of the respondents.
Notwithstanding those survey results, Gov. Romney went ahead with the NERO closure without seeking any additional input from employees or outside review.
“Had the Romney administration been willing to listen to its own employees, it could have avoided disrupting DEP operations as well as the lives and commutes of its employees,” added Bennett, who conducted the survey and assembled other information documenting the problems caused by centralizing regional staffs in Boston. “Unfortunately, listening to its own experts has not been one of the strong suits of the people with whom Governor Romney has surrounded himself.”
Significantly, the PEER survey found that more than one in four employees “fear[s] retaliation from my chain of command for advocating strong environmental positions.” Reluctance by DEP staff to speak out likely further masked the extent of dysfunctionality within the agency.