Chicago-area U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees are feeling so threatened by potential budget cuts from the Trump administration that they’re doing something unfamiliar and uncomfortable: talking with the media.
And to help them speak effectively, they’re taking a storytelling class.
President Donald Trump has proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget, and there were rumors this week the administration could close the Region 5 office, where Chicago-are employees work. The EPA denied those reports.
New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited East Chicago, Indiana, on Wednesday, but he did not meet with Region 5 staff.
EPA attorney Nicole Cantello said she and her colleagues knew the EPA was going to be on the chopping block, so they started brainstorming who they should enlist for the coming battle.
“We thought we had to hire a lobbyist,” she said. “But several people, including several Senators said to us, ‘No, you should hire a publicist.’ ”
So that’s exactly what they did.
Joanna Klonsky, a PR consultant that can usually found around Chicago’s City Hall juggling press requests for a handful of aldermen, is now helping Cantello and seven other attorneys on their lunch breaks figure out that most people won’t know what to make of phrases like “bioaccumulation of PCBs.”
“We’re scientists, so you know, we’re not used to really talking to the public or having that eloquence or that gift to gab, but having this, I think, makes you feel a lot more comfortable and just drills down to the importance of making sure we are telling a story that is indicative of the good work that we do,” said Felicia Chase, a regional stormwater expert for the EPA.
To listen to excerpts from the class and the audio version of this story, click play above.
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her at @laurenchooljian.