The good news is that some federal agencies ― including the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the Energy Information Administration, and the National Weather Service ― remain open despite the government shutdown. However, the effects of this political debacle can still be felt throughout the country’s fragile environmental sector, which was already reeling from sequestration-related cutbacks instituted earlier this year. Here are just a few of the ways the shutdown has indirectly put our health and safety at risk.
1. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been forced to furlough more than 90 percent of its current staff. As a result, the agency “can no longer supervise companies or laboratories that handle radioactive materials”, and all routine evaluations of nuclear power facilities in the U.S. have been suspended indefinitely. (The New York Times)
2. The National Science Foundation currently operates the McMurdo, Amundsen-Scott, and Palmer research stations in Antarctica. Representatives from Lockheed Martin, the company that financially supports the NSF’s Antarctic projects, recently stated that all three stations will close as early as mid-October due to lack of funding if a government resolution isn’t reached. (Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science)
3. The Environmental Protection Agency has furloughed roughly 94 percent of its current staff. Operations that have been put on hold include air and water quality evaluations, hazardous waste clean-up, pesticide and industrial chemical safety certifications, and carbon emissions tests for new motor vehicles. (Guardian UK)
4. The U.S. Geological Survey is comprised of more than 8,600 employees, but only 43 have been deemed essential and an additional 200 have been placed on call in case of an earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption, or other natural disaster. Meanwhile, environmental research studies and ecological restoration projects have been put on hold. (LiveScience)
5. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has halted all inspections of active and abandoned coal mines “in Tennessee and on Indian lands”. As long as the government remains shut down, only “emergency situations” will be addressed. (The Exponent Telegram)
6. Cement plants across the country have been blamed for a high volume of particulate matter emissions, and numerous health problems have been reported among people who live near these facilities. Two years ago, the National Resource Defense Council filed a lawsuit intended to regulate cement plants ― but in the wake of the shutdown, this case has been suspended. “Delaying such a ruling would cost lives,” said a statement issued by the NRDC. (Switchboard)
7. All 401 National Park sites in the U.S. have been shuttered, and the vast majority of scientists and environmental researchers have been furloughed. Meanwhile, oil and gas drilling on public lands has continued despite the shutdown. (ThinkProgress)