7 ways the government shutdown is bad for treehuggers

yellow letters "CLOSED" sign hanging in door
CC BY 2.0 Flickr user Bryan Mills

The government shutdown went into effect at midnight as Congress failed to resolve budget disputes. Roughly 800,000 government employees are now furloughed, their paychecks delayed until a resolution is made.

Among those staying home are 94 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency's 16,205 employees. There's a lot to unpack when it comes to understanding the work being done EPA, along with the other agencies that oversee the country's energy, land use and water. Here we take a look at some of the specifics.

1) New carbon emission regulations for power plants could be delayed

On September 20, the EPA and the Obama administration proposed regulations for new power plants. The proposal is now in a public comment phase, which will be followed by agency revisions. This process could be slowed down because of the shutdown, as well new regulations for existing power plants that are due in June of 2014.

These regulations aim to curb emission in an effort to fight global warming.

2) Work on renewable energy research stops

Renewable energy research at a number of government agencies is deemed non-essential and could be stopped during a shutdown, including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

Politico's Morning Energy reports:

Work on renewable energy activities, along with work on Interior’s five-year plan, would stop, including consideration of permitting applications and regulatory submittals.

Although the Defense Department will not furlough employees needed to protect national security interests, research will be curtailed, The Energy Collective reports:

Non-essential research and procurement, at the Department of Defense, such as that largely invested 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. This includes DOD research contracts with external companies.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has stopped issuing new offshore permits for wind farms.

3) Biofuels targets may miss deadline

The EPA's new biofuel targets for 2014 may miss their deadline, Reuters reports:

"The EPA's proposals for 2014 U.S. biofuel use targets were sent to the White House in late August and remain under review at the Office of Management and Budget. The targets are due to be finalized in December but that deadline could slip depending on the length of a shutdown."

4) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission can only operate for another week

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has enough leftover funds from past appropriations to continue operating for about a week, according to a statement on their website. If the shutdown is longer than that, 300 of their 3,900 employees will continue to report to work:

Of that number, roughly half are resident inspectors assigned to reactor and fuel facilities. The rest of the “excepted” personnel include staff necessary to initially respond to emergency situations at NRC licensed facilities. The Chairman, the NRC Commissioners and Inspector General are in addition to this number and are exempted from furloughs because they are Presidential appointees.

5) Research continuity is threatened

This is particularly important for climate change science, where gaps in the data can seriously hinder analysis. However, data gaps are a huge problem for all kinds of scientists. Seth Borenstein reports on one study that has tracked penguin populations since 1990, but is now threatened by the shutdown:

That work, coordinated by Hugh Ducklow of Columbia University, relied on statistics and trend that need to be unbroken.
"If we miss a year, we'll never get it back again," said Ducklow, who has tracked a 95 percent drop in Adelie penguin population over the years. "It's pretty devastating for our project."

6) National parks are closed

As of the morning of October 1, campers were given 48 hours to leave national park grounds. The National Zoo is also closed, and yes, even the panda cam is turned off.

7) Environmental violations will be prosecuted more slowly

The EPA is not only charged with setting standards and regulations, but also with enforcing them. Although legal cases against air or water polluters could be filed after the shutdown ends, the process will be considerably slower with only 182 out of 804 of the legal action team working.

Unfortunately, this list is far from exhaustive.

There's a barrage of other areas where advancement of environmental progress will the slowed or stopped in the wake of the shutdown, from new patent filings to pesticide regulators.

What issues are you most concerned about? We'd love to read your thoughts in the comments section.

7 ways the government shutdown is bad for treehuggers
Take a look at some of the ways that the shutdown is bad for the environment.