Julie M. Rodriguez

What the US Government Shutdown Means for the Environment

by , 10/01/13

congress, congressional republicans, appropriations spending, federal budget, congressional spending, budget cuts, government shutdownImage © Shutterstock

After a prolonged debate over the Congressional budget and the effective date of the new healthcare law, Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach an agreement on appropriations bills for the coming year. That means the federal government has effectively shut down for the foreseeable future, closing all non-essential government agencies, sending home an estimated 1.2 million federal employees, and potentially delaying paychecks for the remaining workers kept on staff. The shutdown will also stymie climate research, close all national parks, and reduce the EPA’s workforce by 93.5%. Read on to learn what the US government shutdown means for the environment.

congress, congressional republicans, appropriations spending, federal budget, congressional spending, budget cuts, government shutdownImage © Shutterstock

The shutdown won’t affect Social Security, Medicare, air travel, mail delivery, the military, or national security, but unfortunately almost every other government service is fair game. Agencies set up to protect the environment and human health will be the hardest hit during this period. Here are the major agencies that stand to be affected by the crisis:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA will continue monitoring the weather (mostly through automated weather stations and satellites), but won’t be able to continue any climate research. It’s going to have to shut down its 12 marine sanctuaries and may have to call its research ships back into port. Don’t worry about your ability to check the weather forecast — National Weather Service meteorologists have been deemed essential and will stay on duty.

Department of the Interior

Perhaps the most visible effect of the shutdown will be the closing of all national parks, museums, and monuments. As of today, no new visitors will be allowed to enter any national parks, and campers who are currently in the parks will be given 48 hours to pack up and leave. Out of the National Park Service’s 24,645 employees, 21,379 will be furloughed. The National Zoo and Smithsonian Institution will also shut down. This won’t just be a depressing reminder of the Republicans’ lack of concern for conservation, it will also cut down on tourism in affected areas and result in an estimated loss of $30 million a day.

The shutdown is going to hit renewable energy projects hard. While inspections of offshore oil rigs will continue, the Department of the Interior will furlough most of its employees. Only 13,797 out of 72,562 have been deemed essential. All current work on offshore renewable energy projects and the department’s five-year offshore oil drilling plan will be suspended.

US Forest Service employees will face furloughs during peak forest fire season, as well as employees of the US Geological Survey. While emergency flood, earthquake, and volcano monitoring will continue, water quality data won’t be available.

The Environmental Protection Agency

The effects may be less obvious to most ordinary people than a national park shutdown, but business at the EPA is about to grind to a halt. Only 6.5% of the EPA’s workforce will stay on the job, 1,069 out of a force of 16,205. Of those, only half have been deemed essential by the federal government; the rest are being funded by alternate sources.

Superfund sites will continue to be maintained at some sites, but only if stopping work might pose an “imminent threat” to a nearby community. (Clean-up at 505 Superfund sites in 47 states will be suspended.) Animals in EPA labs will continue to be cared for, and a skeleton crew will be kept on staff to respond to any environmental disasters, but that’s about it. Workers carrying out vital duties will only be paid long enough to manage those tasks, and then they have to immediately leave work again. The agency also won’t be able to offer new grants or pay existing grant obligations until the shutdown ends.

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2 Comments

  1. roamer October 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Hi Mayer, just a reminder; this is NOT a disagreement on the budget – it is an attempt to stop the affordable health care act, which has already been debated, voted on, passed, and signed into law. This is, in my opinion, a terrorist act by a few very misguided individuals. It is the opposite of Democracy. There are much more important effects than the ones you mentioned, causing real pain and perhaps death to our fellow men and women. I share your hope for a quick end to this.

  2. Mayer Dahan October 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    We can all only hope that the US Government will come to an agreement fast. There are far too many people that will be negatively affected by this disagreement on the budget. Because of this failure to decide, we as a nation are losing more money, tourism will decline, and still the issue remains at hand.

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