The shutdown of the federal government has effectively closed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for business. According to the EPA’s September 27, 2013 Contingency Plan for Shutdown, 94% of the agency’s 16,205 employees are being furloughed effective today. Essential personnel, such as project managers in the Superfund program and others performing functions necessary to ensure the safety of human life and protection of property, will remain on the job. Certain exempted positions, as well as positions funded outside of the EPA appropriation or by dollars carried over from past appropriations may also continue working, but only on the tasks funded by these exempted or unexpired dollars. The same general principles will apply to the Departments of Energy and the Interior (where 69% and 81% of employees, respectively, would be furloughed, according to the Washington Post) and to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Thus, unless emergencies or national security needs beckon, the work of our federal environmental and energy agencies, including permitting decisions, inspections and enforcement, grantmaking, contracting, research, and public outreach and education, will largely grind to a halt beginning today. This can be frustrating for those with pending federal permit applications that won’t be acted upon, or it can offer a (temporary) respite to those who are out of compliance and dreading the inspector’s knock. But it also means that important scientific research is not progressing, that critical environmental and energy policies are not being implemented, that grant funds and public-private initiatives are not promoting innovation in the private sector, that Pennsylvania’s environmental agencies stand to lose not only the necessary cooperation of their federal counterparts but also critical funding that EPA provides to support the work of state environmental agencies, and – most poignantly – that our friends, neighbors and family members who work for federal agencies, or who do a substantial amount of contracting work for the federal government, are bearing a significant financial burden for however long this lasts.
Let’s hope that this chapter ends quickly, and the EPA, the rest of the federal government, and all the folks whose jobs and livelihoods depend on it are back to work soon.