Environews, Minis

Environews: Environmental impacts of the government shutdown

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental stewardship suffered during the partial government shutdown that began on December 22, 2018 over the refusal of the U.S. Congress to fund a border wall.

Furloughed employees from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were not able to carry out inspections for pollution compliance. Government science projects were interrupted, leaving a gap in data that could undermine many studies.

Nonetheless, the oil and gas industry continued with business as usual after the Trump administration declared energy production “essential.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continued to issue federal lands drilling permits despite being unable to conduct public environmental scoping as required by law.

Before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was fired in January 2019, he issued a “National Park Service Contingency Plan” in anticipation of a “lapse in appropriations.” Furloughed park employees were given just four hours to shut down visitor services and specifically forbidden to use ongoing visitation as a reason to justify staffing. Nonetheless, privatized concessions and guides were allowed to keep operating.

In Utah, local government and citizen groups struggled to manage problems caused by the shutdown. In the National Forest Salt Lake Ranger District, Salt Lake City Public Utilities maintained public restrooms and removed trash in the Salt Lake Valley watershed. The State of Utah contributed funds to keep some of Utah’s national parks open with basic services like restrooms and trash collection. The Canyonlands Natural History Association donated funds to open visitor centers at Arches and Canyonlands Island in the Sky District. However, there were no government funds to plow the roads after snowstorms in December.

The federal government never reimbursed the State of Utah for money contributed to mitigate the federal shutdown over the Affordable Care Act in 2013.

An article on “Nature Divided, Scientists United” published the journal BioScience says that if the border wall were ever actually built it would impede wildlife migration, cause habitat fragmentation and slice up protected landscapes resulting in biodiversity loss. The Real ID Act of 2005 gives the U.S. Department of Homeland Security authority to waive environmental laws.

This article was originally published on February 5, 2019.