Four Days Into Government Shutdown, Economy and Environment Heading South

Read time: 5 mins

We've now entered the fourth day of the government shutdown, and the economic impacts are already being felt by states all over America.  As it turns out, the environmental services provided by the government – everything from running our national park system to renewable energy development – is quite an important part of our economy.

The most obvious and immediate effect is the loss of roughly $76 million every day from the closure of national parks and zoos.  This loss of revenue will have a ripple effect throughout local economies, impacting small businesses, restaurants, lodges, and so on. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the hit to the National Parks Service is adding “insult to injury,” as they were hit particularly hard by previous funding cuts, as well as the sequester cuts earlier this year:

Since 2010, the budget to operate national parks has been slashed by 13 percent in today’s dollars, or $315 million. Chronic underfunding of national parks and public lands has contributed to an estimated $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance at national parks.

As a result of mandatory funding cuts under the sequester, the national parks were unable to hire 1,900 workers for the busy 2013 summer season. Several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had to implement seasonal closures, reduce visitor-center hours, and cancel interpretive programs. Twenty-nine national wildlife refuges had to close for hunting in 2013 as a result of the sequester.

But even though tourists won’t be able to enjoy our federal lands, the dirty energy industry is still allowed full access.  As the funding for energy exploration is provided by the companies themselves, they are exempt from the federal rules put in place that demand all “non-essential” services be immediately put on hold.

This doesn’t mean that drillers are enjoying this shutdown. The Interior Department was forced to stop the permitting process for energy exploration, leaving the dirty energy industry unable to open up any new areas for exploitation.

The economic impacts of the shutdown could potentially be felt for years to come, depending on how long the shutdown lasts, and what type of funding deal is struck to end it.  Renewable energy projects being funded by the government have ground to an abrupt halt, and the longer they remain shuttered, the longer we’ll have to wait for renewable energy.

From The Energy Collective:

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has stopped all new offshore wind demonstration project permitting.

The Department of Energy’s leading research and technology development offices, such as the Office of Science and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, are currently being run by a skeleton crew, dramatically decreasing stewardship of the National Labs and program management of nearly $5 billion in clean energy innovation projects.

Research activities at NIST and NOAA, including climate and weather research, material science, nano-science, and energy science, have been stopped.

Non-essential research and procurement at the Department of Defense, such as investments in clean energy (roughly $1 billion worth), is halted which is slowing down development of next-generation batteries, microgrids, and power electronics as well as early markets for solar panels on bases.

These projects may not have an immediate impact on the economy, but the thinking going on in the right wing echo chamber could certainly affect their future. 

Both Republican members of Congress and the folks over at Fox News have been celebrating the shutdown of the EPA and other regulatory agencies, and they have begun to ponder out loud whether or not the shutdown is showing how unnecessary these projects and agencies really are to society. 

If this kind of thinking takes hold, it could easily lead to a reduction or outright elimination of some of the projects listed above.  At the very least, they have been given a small amount of leverage to put these items on the short list for cuts during negotiations.

And Republicans in Washington have already taken full advantage of this kind of thinking.  They are using this opportunity to go after several large prizes that they’ve been eyeing for quite a while.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on several pieces of legislation, the most important being H.R. 2657, also known as the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013, which would green light the sale of public lands that had been deemed “suitable for disposal.” 

The distraction of the government shutdown, coupled with the fact that the national park system is currently closed, allowed further discussion on HR 2657.  The bill has less to do with recovering funds for the government, as House Republicans have claimed, and everything to do with selling public lands to industries that would defile it – either the dirty energy industry or the logging industry.

While OpenSecrets does not report any industries having lobbied for H.R. 2657, the most likely buyers of federal lands have historically come from the dirty energy industry

Next week, the Natural Resources Committee has planned a hearing on the Obama administration’s alleged animosity towards the coal industry.  The hearing is bluntly titled “EPA vs. American Mining Jobs: The Obama Administration’s Regulatory Assault on the Economy.” 

Perhaps the worst of all will be the threats to our health, and subsequent costs, that could result from the government shutdown.  With many of the agencies in charge of monitoring our air and water, inspecting our food, and providing low cost or free healthcare services shut down or operating with limited personnel, American citizens have become sitting ducks for infection and disease.  Perhaps the direst of these is the lack of food safety inspections, as a few tainted batches of food can poison people from coast to coast. 

The government shutdown is racking up its economic and environmental costs.  With each day that passes, those expenses are multiplied.  If a deal cannot be reached soon, Congress could easily push our economy back into a full blown recession.

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