May 25, 2020

Government Shutdown and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): What you need to know

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.

Conclusion

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.

©2020 MICHAEL BEST & FRIEDRICH LLP

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About this Author

David A. Crass agribusiness law attorney Michael best Law Firm
Partner; Industry Group Chair, Agribusiness, Food & Beverage

David’s practice sits squarely at the intersection of the food-water-energy nexus. His work in the areas of environmental, regulatory, agricultural production, manufacturing and distribution, and energy projects gives him the depth of experience necessary to counsel clients who will be feeding and powering a projected global population of nine billion people by 2050—at a time when resource scarcity and consumer confidence require an ongoing commitment to stewardship and sustainability.

David grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and maintains a presence in Michael Best’s Madison, WI...

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Leah Hurgten Ziemba, Michael Best Law Firm, Agribusiness and Energy Attorney
Partner, Industry Group Chair

Leah takes a big-picture approach in advising clients as they face challenges on environmental, food safety, and regulatory compliance issues. She draws on experience gained in cases involving the EPA, FDA, and other public agencies.

Leah’s success as a counselor, litigator and negotiator reflects her combination of subject matter expertise, industry knowledge, and creativity. Her work includes:

  • Investigating, assessing, and remediating vapor intrusion issues at sites with historic solvent contamination

  • Providing environmental liability assessments and risk management during transactional due diligence

  • Implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act and advising on food labeling matters (e.g., “natural” claims, standards of identity)

  • Navigating local, county, and state environmental regulations to permit and build or expand manufacturing facilities and commercial dairy operations

608-283-4420
Cameron F. Field, transactional practice attorney, Michael Best, law firm
Associate

Cameron brings a broad focus to his work advocating for clients in the agribusiness, food and beverage, and energy industries. He assists clients in navigating the state and federal regulatory process and evaluating strategic business decisions. Clients rely on Cameron for well-informed counsel on water and air permitting matters, as well as on hazardous waste reporting and liability questions. 

For example, Cameron advises on risk factors involved in the purchase, sale, and cleanup of contaminated properties. Relying on his...

608-283-2259