US Government Shutdown Affects the EPA, Climate Research

shutdown
(Photo: A press conference on Capitol Hill about the government shutdown on January 9, 2019. Credit: American Federation of Government Employees, Flickr Creative Commons)

The longest federal government shutdown in US history continued today, affecting around 800,000 federal workers, major agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, and national scientific research on climate and the environment.

In December, the EPA had planned to use unexpired multi-year and “no year” funding to keep most workers on the job, Nature’s Lauren Morello explained. But those funds ran out at the end of last month, prompting the agency to close and furlough the majority of its workers.

The agency issued a shutdown contingency plan for handling operations on December 31 that explained exemptions including some Superfund and critical laboratory work. Around 800 employees are allowed to continue working at the agency by law, the Hill’s Timothy Cama reported.

Whether the law allows EPA employees to help the agency’s acting administrator Andrew Wheeler prepare for his confirmation hearing during the shutdown has become a point of contention, however. Wheeler, a longtime lobbyist for coal, mining, and other energy companies, took the reigns after Scott Pruitt resigned over the summer. His hearing is currently scheduled for this Wednesday.

Climate Research and Pollution Monitoring Halted

Meanwhile, climate scientists say the shutdown is having a negative effect on climate modeling at a crucial time, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller noted. Normally at this time of year, the Environmental Modeling Center would be collaborating with hurricane forecasters, making adjustments to models based on new research and lessons gleaned from the latest hurricane season, Miller reported.

“But of the 200 people that work on these and other [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] forecast models at the EMC, and their various government contractors, only one of them is currently working through the shutdown,” he wrote. “The other 199 are deemed ‘non-critical’ and are furloughed, unable to access their computers to even check on the progress of their models until the government shutdown ends.”

In addition, the shutdown has halted inspection of chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries, water treatment plants, and thousands of other industrial sites for pollution violations, the New York Times’ Coral Davenport reported.

“There is also the impact of no inspectors in the field doing unannounced inspections,” Cynthia Giles, who headed the agency’s enforcement division under the Obama administration, told Davenport. “Will that result in more violations because companies know EPA isn’t watching?” Giles asked.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly reported this morning that talks in Washington are currently stalled and no meetings have been scheduled for today on Capitol Hill.

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