On Friday April 8, 2011, Republicans came within minutes of shutting down the federal government. A federal government shutdown would have directly affected the economy and the environment. Although lawmakers would have continued to get a paycheck, 800,000 federal workers would not, this includes government officials charged with the responsibility of protecting the environment.
According to CNN, 368 National Park Service sites were closed during the last government shutdown which lasted 21 days and prevented 7 million people from being able to visit US national parks. A government shutdown would have had an adverse economic impact in states across America. As reported on Yahoo! News, states like Indiana, would have closed three national parks and 30 national natural landmarks, deterring 2 million visitors with an annual spend of more than $51 million.
A government shutdown also has very serious economic implications beyond important tourist dollars. As reported in the New York Times, The last shutdown shaved a full percentage point off the nation’s productivity.
A shutdown would have been very disruptive to everything from small business to renewable energy. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a memo, “For the American people, a shutdown of the Department of the Interior’s services would disrupt everything from family vacations and small businesses that rely on tourism to renewable energy projects.”
Important environmental cleanups would have been abandoned and hazardous sites including mines, oil and gas production facilities, dams, aqueducts, nuclear power plants, would have gone without inspection. The Washington Post reported that toxic waste cleanup work was halted during the last shutdown. 609 sites reportedly stopped their cleanup projects, and 2,400 Superfund workers were furloughed.
Almost 18,000 EPA employees would have been furloughed and their cleanup activities would have been suspended. Climate research including NASA, NOAA, NSF would have shut down which would have in turn hurt contractors, and small firms that provide goods and services to these scientific research organizations.
National Parks would have been shutdown and protection of natural areas would have lapsed leaving these lands vulnerable to poachers and polluters. The last time there was a government shutdown there were also serious problems at national zoos across the country.
On the bright side, if Republicans had succeeded in shutting down government, it would have given the Democrats an opportunity to stand up against some of the Republicans’ most egregious cost cutting efforts including attempts to strip the EPA of many of its key regulatory powers.
While a government shutdown was narrowly averted, we can expect to see another showdown over the 2012 budget. The cuts Republicans seek in environmental oversight would harm the planet and the health of Americans. The cuts Republicans seek in education and other programs would undermine the future competitiveness of the American economy. Republicans continue to put their party interest ahead of national interest.
Republican’s cost cutting tenacity is proof of the Tea Party’s influence, and as they move ever further to the right of center they are abandoning any hope for functional government.
America may have dodged a bullet this time, but Republican obstructionism does not bode well for the looming 2012 budget. With high unemployment and a fragile economy, this is a very bad time for Republicans to pull the plug on government.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.