Government Shutdown Brings the EPA to a Near Halt

I know it feels like the Environmental Protection Agency is a shadow of its former self under President Trump, with administrators who think environmental regulation is a grave offense against the industries that line their pockets. But the agency actually still does a lot of really important work, with committed staffers who genuinely believe in the spirit of what the EPA should be.

Thanks to Trump’s shutdown, however, none of them are coming to work — and that’s very bad news for you, me and the planet.

Just 794 of the agency’s over 14,000 employees were deemed “essential,” and these individuals are expected to report for work — even though the agency is unfunded and can’t pay them. They’re trying to run a vast and extremely technical agency with a lot of moving parts and a long list of obligations. And, as the EPA’s shutdown contingency plan shows, these employees cannot possibly keep up.

Like other agencies affected by the shutdown, the EPA has retained a cadre of employees to deal with immediate, life-threatening situations. These staffers are so focused on these needs that other work — including inspections, education, maintenance and other activities designed to prevent safety threats in the first place — cannot get done.

That’s especially obvious with heavily contaminated Superfund sites across the country that are at various stages of environmental remediation. These sites need inspection and monitoring, as well as agency approval for cleanup proposals and other activities. Similarly, the EPA is supposed to be doing onsite inspection and enforcement for pollution with the goal of protecting environmental health and preventing even more Superfund sites from appearing.

The EPA has had to put the brakes on criminal investigations and prosecution, making it a great time to be a polluter. Hundreds of routine inspections are already being cancelled, with most of the agency’s pollution inspectors on furlough. Furthermore, the agency’s ability to disburse grants and assistance has been hampered in the case of funds that haven’t been appropriated yet.

It’s important to be aware that this isn’t just a problem for the term of the shutdown. The longer the EPA goes without funds, the bigger the backlog. It could take weeks or months to catch up when people get back to work, something many furloughed EPA employees are painfully aware of. But even if they wanted to volunteer, they’re legally barred from working through the shutdown.

State EPAs, which are funded separately, are trying to pick up some of the slack here. Their personnel is familiar with conditions in their home states well and aware of which issues are most pressing, but they can’t cover everything; for some activities, the feds are required.

The long closure could create a cascade of problems at state agencies that interferes with their work and leads to long delays which will ultimately harm the environment, communities and businesses.

While the shutdown forces the EPA into a standstill, Donald Trump has formalized Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s role with a nomination. The Senate will have to consider whether they want a former coal lobbyist heading up the agency that stands between the American public and the kind of rampant pollution that caused a Republican president to start an agency to crack down on it.

That president was Richard Nixon, and the agency, the EPA.

Photo Credit: AFGE/Flickr


Sophie A
Sophie A2 months ago

Thank you

Mia B
Mia B2 months ago

thank you for sharing

Leanne K
Leanne K2 months ago

Trump is running the country like his businesses, people are expected to work and never be paid. AND you and your politicans and departments are letting him. Are you all completely insane. You can bet every drug cartel, terrorist andloony is taking full advantage. Oh sure police and border control can police all the national parks etc.
Trump is stealing money, hes funnelling it to benefit himselff and his cronies while you all look elsewhere. You are heading for financial disaster.

Lorrie O
Lorrie O2 months ago

De-fence. AWOL. $0.

Lorrie O
Lorrie O2 months ago

Him a la ya. The GOPi ought to save the elephant.

Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Chad A
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

Anne Moran
Anne Moran2 months ago

Get those air traffic controllers to go on strike till they get payed, and that shutdown will be reversed in a nano second.. - No one could fly in or out of the country,, no planes in the air,, not even Airfoce One...

Ingrid A
Past Member 2 months ago

thank you

Sandra V
Sandra V2 months ago