Cover sheet for the document, 'U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Contingency Plan for Shutdown, December 31, 2018'. Graphic: EPA

By Oliver Milman
9 January 2019

(The Guardian) – The US government shutdown has stymied environmental testing and inspections, prompting warnings that Americans’ health is being put at increasing risk as the shutdown drags on.

More than 13,000 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not at work, with just 794 people deemed essential staff currently undertaking the agency’s duties.

The remaining skeleton staff are able to “respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property”, according to an EPA planning document. But many routine activities such as checks on regulated businesses, clean-ups of toxic superfund sites and the pursuit of criminal polluters have been paused since 28 December.

“State programs aren’t being funded, enforcement actions have stopped – it’s a nightmare,” said Gary Morton, president of AFGE Council 238, which represents about 9,000 EPA workers.

“EPA employees want to get back to work, they have bills and mortgages to pay. These are dedicated public servants who took an oath to serve and protect the American people. The states and community groups can’t do this work on their own.”

In some instances, state officials will be able to continue EPA-aligned tasks, such as deal with hundreds of former industrial facilities and other polluted areas known as superfund sites. An EPA spokeswoman said the agency will “continue to respond at sites where there is an imminent threat to the safety of human life” but that superfund cleanups have halted.

A senior EPA employee, who has been sidelined from work, said it will take weeks for the agency to catch up with its core functions once the shutdown is over.

“You’re just keeping the patient alive right now,” the staffer, who asked not to be named, said. Some staff, already disgruntled at the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental protections, are preparing to march in protest to the White House on Thursday, with working colleagues urged to call in sick. [more]

'It's a nightmare': Americans' health at risk as shutdown slashes EPA

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