The federal government shutdown will dramatically alter the activities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency will operate with less than seven percent of its employees during the government shutdown, according to the agency’s contingency plan. Retained staff will focus on agency operations that are necessary to protect human life or property and projects that are funded with unexpired appropriations. We have summarized below what our environmental clients should know and how the government shutdown affects the EPA.
Superfund cleanups suspended
Cleanup at 505 of 800 national Superfund sites will be stopped during the shutdown, according to an EPA spokesperson. Projects will continue only where “a failure to maintain operations would pose an imminent threat to human life.”
Current and future EPA enforcement matters reduced
The EPA has exempted only 182 of the 804 employees in the Air and Water enforcement divisions from furloughs. EPA attorneys in the middle of enforcement matters, counseling, litigation, or administrative hearings will only be allowed to continue their work to the extent that it is either funded by appropriations not affected by the shutdown, or it is needed to “protect human life and property from imminent threat.” Expect U.S. Department of Justice and EPA attorneys to request stays and other deadline extensions in litigation proceedings.
The EPA will generally stop incurring new obligations during the shutdown. However, some obligations, such as responding to environmental emergencies, are exempted from the contingency plan. Clients can also expect permit applications to be delayed because of the decrease in personnel.
Rule promulgation likely delayed
The government shutdown may also delay the rule promulgation process for new power plant emission standards released on September 20, 2013 and renewable fuel volume standards expected in 2014. The EPA will likely attempt to stay on schedule with rulemaking procedures, but delays may result depending on the length of the shutdown.
The EPA will reduce the number of its working employees from 16,208 to 1,069 people during the government shutdown. As previously stated, clients should expect this change to delay application approvals and rulemaking procedures. Moreover, the EPA will not be opening new matters while the government remains shutdown unless there is an imminent threat to human health or property. Superfund cleanups will be suspended at a majority of sites nationwide.