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Sierra Daily

Oct 04, 2013

How the Stalled Government Hurts Our Environment

The United States Capitol Building where the decision to shutdown was madeThe government shutdown has forced the closure of the national parks, threatening tourism-based local economies and blocking our ability to marvel at the beauty of nature. But what does the shutdown mean for the agencies that work to expand our knowledge of the environment and protect us from pollution? Here's a rundown of how the nation's regulatory, research, and safety programs are faring. 

The Environmental Protection Agency
With only a fraction of its staff, the EPA is a shadow of its formal self. Regulatory bodies focusing on air, water, and soil will be crippled, and pending legal actions are put on hold. Plans to drastically increase regulations for coal- and gas-fired power plants and efforts to increase renewable fuel volume standards are also stalled. 

The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board
This board is charged with overseeing and identifying the causes of chemical hazards and spills. During the shutdown, it has only three active employees -- one of whom is an IT specialist. We hope there aren't any dangerous spills in the coming days.

Fish and Wildlife Service
The agency's many fisheries, research labs, and endangered species breeding facilities are being manned by a single employee. Most of the nearly 600 refuges and wildlife sanctuaries that the FWS oversees are each being watched over by one manager, though some of these fragile places have no overseer at all. However, the FWS may retain some law enforcement staff at many of these refuges.

United States Department of Agriculture
With its website down, the USDA cannot provide recall information or nutritional resources. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is only partially active -- meaning that it cannot grant permits, control pests and diseases, review genetically engineered crops, or conduct investigations relating to the Animal Welfare Act. Luckily, inspection of meat, poultry, and eggs is taking place.

Department Of Energy
A fraction of the DOE's work is being maintained during the shutdown, stalling clean-energy research. The Advanced Energy Research sector is empty, and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has only a few people on staff, leaving efficiency research left to collect dust. The Office of Environmental Management, which oversees the country's largest collection of nuclear cleanup sites (covering 2 million acres in 11 states), has a skeleton crew of four employees.

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The NRC is fortunate to have leftover funds, allowing it to continue regulating reactor safety, spent fuel, and hazardous radioactive materials. However, it is unknown how long the NRC can keep up the regulation of U.S. nuclear facilities with these limited funds.

The National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation isn't accepting grant requests for any new endeavors, potentially stalling important research. Projects already granted funding can continue their work with whatever funds that remain.

--Photo by iStockphoto/Fstockfoto

James Rogers is an editorial intern at Sierra. He graduated from Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment, where he studied a combination of environmental studies and journalism. While at Western, he was the editor in chief of The Planet magazine, and he has written for Conservation Northwest QuarterlyPublic Eye Northwestand The Western Front.

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