The cookies showed up Monday morning, hundreds of them packed tightly in cardboard boxes, and made their way to offices throughout the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in downtown Washington.
“To: EPA Staff. From: America,” the labels read. “Thank you so much for all you do. You save lives. You make the world better.”
On the back of the cookie wrappers were personal stories from people around the country who see the EPA as a force for good.
“Thanks to your work on air quality standards in Northwest Indiana, my eleven-year-old child finally has her asthma under control,” wrote Sarah from Indiana.
“As an asthmatic, I have to say that not having summer days where you can see the air, and where I have no choice but to spend the day on the floor gasping for breath, is greatly appreciated,” wrote Kent from Maryland.
“Perhaps people no longer remember when we had rivers that burned (the Cuyahoga), or air that choked people (Los Angeles) or toxic waste that poisoned our homes and schools,” wrote Jerry from Delaware. “I’m grateful to EPA for their hard work protecting human health and the environment.”
“Thanks to your work on improving water quality and combined sewer overflows, I can finally kayak safely on my local river!” wrote Bethany from Michigan.
The cookies might have been the best-tasting bit of gratitude to arrive this week at the EPA, but they weren’t the only one. Amid hundreds of calls in recent days to complain about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s comments on climate change and the agency’s decision to consider rolling back fuel-efficiency standards adopted during the Obama administration, some callers took time to thank employees for their work. Others sent actual cards, such as one a manager shared with employees that had a picture of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome on the outside and a note inside that said, essentially, “We’ve got your back.”
One EPA employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the cookies, cards and call were “bright spots” in any otherwise “grim” time for many there.
The Trump administration’s budget proposal, released Thursday, would take a 31 percent chunk out of the EPA budget and cut it from its current funding level of $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion. The agency would lose about 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of its workforce. Funding would end for the Clean Power Plan — the Obama administration effort to combat climate change by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants — and would be slashed for the Superfund cleanup program and scientific research.
In addition, the proposed budget would eliminate more than 50 EPA programs, such as Energy Star, which aims to improve energy efficiency and save consumers money, as well as funding for Alaska Native villages and grants that help cities and states combat air pollution.
“The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters this week.
Yet many EPA employees, who feel as if they’re under siege, worry that the agency is at risk of being cut to the point that it no longer will be able to do its job of enforcing basic air and water protections.
“I have a couple friends there who are just depressed and unsure. It’s the uncertainty more than anything else,” said David Marquardt, who lives in the District. “I grew up in L.A. When I was a little kid, we’d have smog days where our lungs were just in pain. Kids these days in L.A. don’t have to go through that, in part because of EPA.”
Marquardt said he started thinking about how he might cheer up EPA employees rattled by all the upheaval. “There’s not much I could do,” he said. “I just know everybody likes a cookie.”
He got in touch with a friend, Dan Kaufman, who used to run a local baking business called BakerMan Dan. Marquardt, with financial help from a few friends, bought enough ingredients for hundreds of chocolate chip cookies. Kaufman did the baking at Mess Hall, a shared community kitchen.
The pair then blasted out a question on social media, asking friends, relatives and acquaintances, “If you could say something directly to the people who work at EPA, what would you say?” Some of the responses made it to the back of the cookie packages.
The two men said it was an impromptu gesture, but one they felt compelled to carry out.
“I’m a baker, this was something I could do,” Kaufman said. “They were baked with love.”
Three EPA employees reported that they were grateful and that, politics and budgets aside, the cookies were delicious.