If the shutdown in Washington does anything, it may be to ask the question: “Why does the country need government?”
On the eighth day of the government shutdown, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairperson of the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, flanked by other Majority members, held a press conference to discuss the wide-ranging impacts of the standoff in Washington. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is particularly hard hit. A preponderance of workers in the office of air and radiation — which handles the writing and implementation of top air pollution rules — are furloughed. On hold will be the proposal for renewal fuel volume standards that were being recommended for 2014. The comment period on the emissions standards put forth for new power plants will be postponed, and a host of other deadlines will be impacted.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the fact that only 182 workers out of 804 will be at work in the enforcement department of the EPA. These are the people tasked with taking legal action against those who pollute the air and water systems. Read this as a free pass card to those who knowingly dump illegal contaminants, folks like Koch Industries. Business as usual has been disrupted. Falling under this umbrella is: the issuing of environmental permits; examination of pesticides; overseeing safe drinking water laws on tribal lands; the effectiveness of the Chemical Safety Board that investigates explosions; the closing of public lands for recreation.
The growing traction on President Obama’s new carbon regulations is stymied. As Gina McCarthy said at a recent breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, “…the EPA effectively shuts down, with only a core group of individuals who are there in the event of a significant emergency.” The parameters of an “emergency” were later defined by the agency as an “imminent threat” to the safety of “human life or property.” Boxer started the press conference by calling for a “clean CR (Continuing Resolution) with no riders attached.” She emphasized that keeping the government open and paying the bills incurred were tantamount. “Governing is about moving the country forward,” she said. “Here’s what’s happening on the ground,” Boxer continued. “93 percent of the EPA has been furloughed. So, no one is insuring that water is safe to drink or that air is safe to breathe.” Referencing her state, Boxer said, “The shut down has taken EPA inspectors off the job. In California, there is not one on the ground.” Pointing to the ramifications, Boxer said, “This means no oversight on those who are illegally dumping toxins in water and air. Clean up activities at 505 superfund sites in 47 states are on hold. This directly impacts families and vulnerable children to arsenic, benzene, lead, and mercury.”
Boxer pointed out how deadly these substances are to the brains and organs of young children. As case in point, she showed a graphic photograph of a parent trying to staunch a child’s nosebleed in the Los Angeles community of University Park—situated near oil and gas operations. There were numerous incidents of recurring nosebleeds, dizziness, respiratory ailments and headaches. Boxer made sure that the EPA “got on it” — and it was attended to. Shaking her head, Boxer underscored, “Stuff like this will get derailed.” Making a point of relating the stat that 75 percent of the American public supports the EPA, Boxer ended her comments by reiterating the “widespread effect on the health and safety of the American people and the economy.” Her bottom line was, “The longer the shutdown continues, the greater the damage will be.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) took the microphone to comment on the clear ramifications of harm to the environment and health, with the refrain, “There’s no doubt about it.” He also brought up a topic dear to the Republicans: the economy. He discussed how the shut down of public lands for recreation negatively affects the adjacent local economies. He pointedly noted, “You can’t negotiate with a gun at your head.” Speaking about Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) outlined consequences from the shutdown of tours at the Kennedy Space Center being canceled to the target dates thrown off in meeting the Everglades restoration. In addition, four speakers were on hand to discuss how critical services are being affected by the shutdown, including the investigation and prevention of chemical explosions and disasters, stalled cleanups of waste sites, the shuttering of wildlife refuges, and consequences for the transportation sector. We need government to open up and protect us now.