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Understanding the Government Shutdown’s Environmental Impact

Posted by Malcolm on October 6, 2013

NOAA’s page

Six days ago, the US government shutdown. This is not the first time that this has occurred, in fact it has happened 17 times before. Simply put, the reason behind the current shutdown, and past ones as well, is due to the great divide between republicans and democrats and their “interests.” From abortions to environmental standards, both sides of the aisle are willing to stop the government to get what they want. In this case, Congress failed to follow one of its key duties of passing a budget, because republicans want to eliminate or limit Obamacare. After the shutdown commenced, more than 800,000 government employees will sit at home and many “non-essential” government entities entered “shutdown mode.” So what does this mean for the environment?

  • The EPA has shutdown. This includes their  efforts to clamp down on carbon pollution from power plants, to set gas milage ratings, to cleanup of superfund sites, and to implement hazardous waste inspections. Only 1,069 or about 6.5 percent of the total employees are staying on, either because they’re doing vital work or because another fund is paying their bills. And air and water won’t be monitored for pollution.
  • All 401 national parks and monuments have closed  costing local communities approximately $76 million per day in lost revenue from visitors. This is coupled with the stalling of the creation of wilderness, the end of the nations conservation program, and the sale of public lands.
  • NASA has shutdown. In Florida, NASA’s historic Kennedy Space Center is likely to see most of its 2,085 civilian employees and another 4,384 private contractors asked to stay home.
  • Energy innovation has halted for all intensive purposes. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has stopped all new offshore wind demonstration project permitting. Research activities at NIST and NOAA, including climate and weather research, material science, nano-science, and energy science, have been stopped. Non-essential research and procurement at the Department of Defense, such as investments in clean energy (roughly $1 billion worth), is halted which is slowing down development of next-generation batteries, microgrids, and power electronics as well as early markets for solar panels on bases.
  • NOAA has shutdown. This means access to their data sets and maps is no longer possible. For students here at MIIS in the OCRM track, this has been a damper. With my position at Oceana, we are working on a contingency plan to deal with NOAA employees being unavailable, possibly through the Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Summit (blog post to come on the results of this).
  • Employees at the National Weather Service need to be paid. At least that is what they are telling us. “There’s no money to pay them,” Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, told Popular Science. “Nobody knows when anyone’s going to get paid.”

Luckily, the GOP are willing to bake Obama cookies if he agrees to change Obamacare. Since that will help the environment…