The U.S. government has been shut down for more than a week now, and some congressional Republicans are cheering the fact that their refusal to pass a clean continuing resolution or budget is preventing agencies like the EPA from protecting public health and welfare.
But only, it seems, when the agency isn’t working on issues important to their districts.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said on Wednesday that he didn’t see why EPA couldn’t just continue writing a biofuels standard that the Congressman supports. “I don’t know that a month delay, perhaps, at EPA is something that is going to push us back that far.”
King is a big proponent of biofuels, and Iowa leads the nation in corn-based ethanol production. The industry that has given most to Rep. King over his career is the crop production and processing sector — $373,890.
If the renewable fuels standard requires staff time at the expense of working on carbon rules for power plants, King said, “I’m willing to stall off an EPA rule just to let those coal producers stay in the marketplace.”
However, conservative media and other prominent House Republicans thought the country would be better off without the EPA.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) cheered the fact the agency can’t protect air, water, and public welfare during the shutdown:
There is some good news out of the shutdown, the EPA can't issue new regulations. http://t.co/SsSTDiif2R
— Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) October 1, 2013
Blackburn’s “good news” means that Superfund sites aren’t being cleaned up, basic public health protections won’t be enforced, the Energy Star program has been shut down, and vehicles stop getting tested for mileage ratings, putting automakers in limbo. And yes, essential rulemaking work to protect clean air and water would slow to a crawl.
Fox News echoed the comments last week, according to Media Matters. Co-anchor Dana Perino said that when the public servants at the EPA are “working they’re actually making life hell for millions of Americans.” John Stossel said boldly that “the Earth won’t notice the difference if you shut the EPA for ten years.” Other conservative outlets made jokes about former EPA Administration Lisa Jackson’s email accounts.
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) pointed out that because EPA had to furlough 93.4 percent of its workforce, those public servants were truly “non-essential”:
EPA: 93.4% of our employees are non-essential http://t.co/st43IXg8AD
— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) October 1, 2013
The implication being that if staff is categorized as not “excepted,” this really meant that their roles were not necessary.
Before the shutdown, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that essentially the only staff still allowed to work would be there “to keep the lights on and to respond in the event of a significant emergency.” Similarly huge supermajorities have been furloughed at Treasury, Commerce, Education, NASA, Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Election Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. A helpful interactive infographic of the furloughed percentage of each agency can be viewed here.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said last week that the word “furlough” should more accurately be called “layoff.” Mikulski was at an event with meteorologists from the National Weather Service who can’t work to improve the weather models that all Americans rely on to get their daily weather reports. These furloughs affect workers across the country, in red states and blue states.
Other agencies that have thus far been able to scrape by using money allocated for multiple years, but this week began running out of money to keep staff working. Agencies running out of this “rainy day fund” include: the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the entire federal judiciary system, including the Supreme Court.
Fox News anchors had more to say on this topic as well, with co-anchor Martha MacCallum noting that a “valid” question is “why we need the other 15,000 EPA workers at all.” Elizabeth Hasselbeck asked, if they aren’t considered essential, “why are they there in the first place?”
The League of Conservation Voters has started a petition to call out the network for their comments.
While many conservatives blame the Democrats and say they lament the shutdown, the relief and happiness they show at parts of the government being unable to fulfill their missions reveals the truth: this shutdown isn’t about the budget or Obamacare. It’s about some politicians believing that some forms of public service shouldn’t happen. To them, protecting air, water, and public health is not important or essential. They’ll make a show of getting angry about veterans’ benefits, national parks, and the local government of Washington, D.C. But the end result of playing whack-a-mole with outcries over segments of the U.S. government shutting down ends with a crude approximation of governance that allows polluters to do whatever they please.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said Wednesday that Republicans’ piecemeal approach to funding the government leaves out the EPA: “If you look at all their mini-bills, not one of them restored any funding for any agency that comes close to enforcing our environmental protection laws.”
She said under that approach, the EPA would remain shuttered indefinitely.
This approach does not appear to be doing the GOP any favors. Republican party favorability sank to its lowest level on record, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.