What would you do if your job depended on a functioning EPA?
February 7, 2017 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I work as an environmental consultant. The work that I do is either funded by the EPA through grants and contracts, or is in response to regulations that companies need to comply with. For obvious reasons, I am worried about my long-term job stability. I have a more stable prospect, but I can't tell if I'm being irrational or smart.

I began my career in a similar job through the 2008 downturn and it wasn't pretty. To hedge my bets, I applied for a job working for a public agency in a progressive state. It turns out that they want to hire me. This job would give me a little more stability, and would be a good place to be in case everything comes crashing down. And I would really like to do the work. The problem is that this move would be less ideal for my family (although better than being without a job). I don't really want to uproot them if I don't have to.

I am worried about waiting until layoffs begin. In 2008 when my industry went through a contraction, it affected everybody. I knew people who couldn't find a job for more than a year.

What would you do? How would you approach thinking about this? I can't figure out if this would be a wise move, or if I'm being irrational about the future. Thanks!
posted by chevyvan to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Environmental contracting is so volatile. I know 20 or 30 people who were laid off this year. The smart ones got a nice stable public job ahead of the rush.
posted by fshgrl at 5:17 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

How is the public agency offering a gig funded? Do they rely on EPA grants to conduct their work, or are they relying on local/state funding? And what laws are they operating under: are they merely using delegated EPA authority, or are they implementing independent state-level requirements that would remain in place regardless of changes at the federal level?

(For instance: if Congress were to repeal the National Environmental Policy Act, California agencies would still do environmental reviews because CEQA would still apply.)

Where you live now -- are there state-level requirements that would remain in place even if EPA loses much of its ability to regulate? Because even if the EPA has its budget cut and lays off staff, I think it's less likely that Congress is going to repeal the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Superfund, etc. en masse. The public blow-back would be significant. And many federal programs have delegated to the states the authority to enforce those laws, such as the state clean air programs.

So the question is: if EPA goes away, who is going to be the local regulator, and how do you get in with them? Is there a market for consultants that way, or do you have to be working directly for the state/local government?

You are far from the only person in this field facing this issue. Best of luck.
posted by suelac at 5:17 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

U.S. Federal government layoffs often include a buy out option (where they pay you money to volunteer to be one of the people who leaves). This is money you will not be offered if you just up and quit to change jobs.
posted by Michele in California at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2017

don't sweat it, the EPA's not going away.
posted by patnok at 6:09 PM on February 7, 2017

I'm not a consultant, but in snonptofit where 20% of our funding comes from the EPA. We're worried, but we're likely to be fine and we don't expect our funding to go away. Overall, I think it depends on your specific field.
posted by buttercup at 6:17 PM on February 7, 2017

People tend to trickle out of agencies and agency-related work and into relevant/related non-profit orgs with regularity. I used to work for a big US science agency (not one with regulatory responsibilities), and followed this path a decade ago. In the last two weeks, my org's seen a handful of applicants from agencies.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:20 PM on February 7, 2017

I'm also in environmental consulting. It's hard to answer your question without knowing what specific subfield of environmental consulting you do work in, as there are so many and also what state you do work in because states like CA, NJ, NY, WA, etc. will continue to have environmental consulting work even if the federal stuff gets murky.

I've been worrying about this too, as have some of our higher up folks in my company so we'll see where things go. Do you do due diligence work at all - i.e. Phase I's/II's? This kind of work isn't directly under EPA and I've been telling myself that as long as properties continue to be bought and sold, people and banks will still be wanting their Phase I's done. There's also geotechnical work that gets done when buildings get constructed that should also continue even if issues arise with the EPA.

Also if it makes you feel better, Congress can't just get rid of the EPA. They would have to remove all the environmental laws that created the need for an EPA: i.e. the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, RCRA, etc. etc. and I find it hard to believe they could do that without huge pushback.

Anyway, sorry this is a lot of words to basically say I'm not sure what you should do. What you've presented is a tough choice. I know that in some states, their public agencies are already being affected and budgets are constricting based on what people I know in these agencies have told me so I think there's risk no matter what you decide.
posted by FireFountain at 6:34 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Widen the input for your decision: I'm seeing a lot of potential positives in the move to the public agency job, but only you and your family can know.
- What does your family think about living in the progressive state?
- Do you have kids? Is education likely to be better for them there? (Honestly, it probably will be given what happened yesterday.)
- Is healthcare better in the other state?

You don't need to decide right now either; give yourself and your family time to think about things.

Otherwise, re the question as asked, I have friends who work in the NPS and forestry service and yeah, it's bad. They're in positions to resist, but they've also been working towards self-sufficiency for about a decade now so that they're able to do just that. Every situation is different.
posted by fraula at 2:26 AM on February 8, 2017

I am also an environmental consultant, and I agree with the above comment that it depends on what specific work you do. I work primarily with oil and gas clients, and our year is looking to actually get busier. I'm still feeling uncertainty, no doubt, but I'm sticking with my company and keeping my fingers crossed. I think construction and capital projects might actually increase, fwiw.
posted by tryniti at 4:40 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

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