Shutdown hits hard on EPA and the environment

It’s the second week since the federal government has been shut down, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes one of the biggest hits among any other federal departments. According to EPA contingency plan, the agency is now operating with below 7 percent of its 16,000 full time and part-time employees.

It is hard to tell how badly the shutdown will affect the environment. But the immediate result, already being experienced by the citizens, is not promising. For instance, people living near toxic waste sites will be bothered. Almost 500 U.S. Superfund Sites will no longer be working on until the shutdown stops. The EPA is only working on sites which present immediate threats to public health, long-term dangers will be set aside. As the EPA contingency plan explains, “For example, if ceasing the operation of an acid mine drainage treatment plan would cause a release to a stream that provided drinking water to a community, the agency would consider that situation to pose an imminent threat.”

Given that the EPA is effectively shut down, agency scientists will no longer going to inspect the violations of pollution control standards for industrial facilities. In addition, the EPA has stopped working on its recently announced greenhouse gas regulations on Power Plants, which brings uncertainty to the energy market. 

The longer the U.S. federal government remains shutdown, the greater the risks and undesired consequences will be for the public health and the environment. Hopefully the EPA will reopen soon, along with other agencies, before any serious environment incident happens.


-Renjie Shen, Sustainability