Sunday, October 27, 2013

How U.S. government shutdown affects the environment

As of midnight last night*, with congress unable to pass a federal budget for 2014, the U.S. government began shutting down, affecting agencies essential to protecting the environment – like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example.

Roughly 800,000 civilian workers – or 40% of the entire U.S. federal government’s civilian workforce – will be sent on extended furlough without pay. It’s still unclear exactly how long the shutdown will last, but if the past is any indication, it could be a while. Back in 1995, a deadlock between Congressional Republicans and President Clinton shut the government down for 21 days – the longest stretch in American history.

Overall, the U.S. government has been forced to close its doors a whopping 17 times! So is this shutdown business as usual?

Well, not according to the EPA, which employs over 16,000 people. Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, claims that a furlough would mean that her agency "effectively shuts down.” Only 6.5% of employees will be staying on during the shutdown, since their work is either vital to national security or privately funded.

But don’t we want regulators keeping their eyes on toxic waste dumps, and oil rigs, and other operations that clearly represent a threat to our environment?

As the government’s shutdown plan explains: "If ceasing the operation of an acid mine drainage treatment plan would cause a release to a stream that provided drinking water to a community, the agency would consider that situation to pose an imminent threat."

But again, this begs the question: do we trust the government to judge what is, and is not, considered an “imminent threat?”

The EPA is keeping some employees to perform routine maintenance around important facilities. Others will stay to feed lab animals and ensure that long-running tests continue undisturbed. Others still will comprise on-call emergency teams in the event a disaster should occur.

Let’s just hope things don’t come to that.

It’s time the government put political differences aside and focused on what matters to the public: keeping us safe. That includes protecting fresh water reserves and ecosystems from our destructive habits. 

* - beginning of October

 U.S. government shutdown, environment, federal budget, protecting the environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Congressional Republicans, President Clinton, EPA, Gina McCarthy, Ana Shell NRGLab, Ana shell ]

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