| Sept 30
Sept 30 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
will take one of the biggest hits of any federal agency if the
government shuts down this week, operating with under 7 percent
of its employees, according to guidance issued by the agency.
Among those furloughed would be most workers at the Office
of Air and Radiation, which is in charge of writing and
implementing most of the EPA's major air pollution rules. The
clock would also stop, for now, on the EPA's eagerly-awaited
proposal on renewable fuel volume standards for 2014.
The EPA said its plan for dealing with a shutdown would
classify 1,069 employees, out of 16,205, as essential. These
employees would continue to work if Congress fails to secure a
budget deal by midnight Monday to avoid disruption to federal
Taking the air and radiation unit off the grid will tighten
timelines to meet certain court-imposed deadlines, said one
"People are not going to be able to be working on these
rules at home," said Dina Kruger, an environmental regulation
consultant and former climate change director at the EPA, who
worked at the agency when the government shut down in 1996.
In their guidance to employees, agencies have been clear:
government-issued equipment should be returned to home base and
work cellphones are not to be used.
Employees have been instructed to come into the office for
up to four hours on Tuesday if the government shuts down, to set
up voicemail and email "out-of-the office" messages and to
secure work documents. They will not be allowed to check those
accounts from home or conduct any work that has been pending.
Kruger added though that for EPA rules due in 2014 under
President Barack Obama's climate action plan, the agency should
be able to complete its work on time, even if it has "to work a
little harder" - depending on the length of the shutdown.
"There are a lot of complicated issues in these current
rulemakings and more time is better than less time in terms of
addressing them," Kruger said.
The EPA on Sept. 20 unveiled new emissions standards for new
power plants. The proposal will undergo an extensive public
comment period over the next few months after which the agency
will revise the proposal. A shutdown would delay the comment
period as well.
In June of 2014 the EPA is due to publish a wider reaching
proposal to regulate carbon emissions from the country's
existing power plants. Finalizing that rule, which will involve
close cooperation with all 50 states, is expected to be a time
The EPA's proposals for 2014 U.S. biofuel use targets were
sent to the White House in late August and remain under review
at the Office of Management and Budget. The targets are due to
be finalized in December but that deadline could slip depending
on the length of a shutdown.
Also facing furloughs is the unit of the EPA that enforces
regulations by taking legal action against an air or water
polluter. Just 182 of the enforcement unit's 804 employees are
exempted from furloughs.
If a company violates EPA rules, Kruger said the agency can
go back and enforce past problems if a violation is identified
after the fact.
For companies wishing to build or expand a facility, the
shutdown may result in further delays as the agency's ability to
issue environmental permits will grid to a near halt.
"Permitting does not qualify (as essential), so people
should expect delays in permit processing and other licensing
and approval processes," said Scott Fulton, former EPA general
counsel until January this year and an attorney at Beveridge and
"This is a decidedly bad thing for the country. Everybody
pays, including the regulated community."
Personnel staying on board would be limited to those
involved in public health and safety, including the safe use of
hazardous materials and protection of federal property, such as
lands, buildings, equipment and research facilities.
Staff will be on hand in the event of emergencies, such as
"in the event of a water related incident where the threat to
human life or property is imminent," according to the EPA plan.