With Congress and the White House on a collision course for a government shutdown tomorrow, several agency officials yesterday began rolling out the specifics of contingency plans which had, until now, been closely guarded.
Across the government, some 800,000 federal workers are expected to be furloughed if a shutdown occurs, and only those activities that have alternate funding sources or that are deemed necessary for the safety of life and protection of property would continue.
Several U.S. EPA programs fall under the latter category, an agency official said last night.
Among the programs that would continue to operate despite the shutdown would be the RadNet radiation monitoring system, which the agency has put to use to provide information to the public in light of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.
EPA's emergency response readiness programs would also remain operational, as would some elements of Superfund projects where there may be ongoing threats to surrounding communities.
At EPA's various labs, the official said that the agency would need staff to protect lab property, protect controlled research elements and conduct activities like feeding research animals. A limited number of technical support staff will be required to work and some services like the EPA public inquiry hotline would still be operated.
But other services, like the environmental crimes hotline, which EPA uses to get public reports on potential environmental violations, would be shut down.
The agency would cease all ongoing permitting work, rulemaking activities and environmental impact statement efforts. Ongoing scientific evaluations for chemicals and pesticides would be put on hold and testing of various technologies such as studies on fracking techniques would stop. While some elements of the agency's air pollution monitoring program will remain operational, most water programs -- such as pollution monitoring at beaches -- as well as state revolving funds for clean water would be hit by the shutdown.
Over at the Department of the Interior, agency spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said yesterday that agency officials still believe that there is the opportunity for Congress to avoid a shutdown but also said they are are working to prepare for all possible scenarios.
"Visitors and potential visitors to national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands should be advised that, in the event of a government shutdown, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management will close and secure park, refuge and visitor facilities on public lands," Barkoff said.
Activities that require a permit, including public events such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., would be canceled or postponed. Visitor centers will be closed and access to park areas such as the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Alcatraz and the Washington Monument would be denied. Visitors using overnight accommodations and campgrounds will be given two days to make alternate arrangements. Some roads will be closed on property managed by Interior "except when they are necessary as thruways," Barkoff said.
"Limited personnel needed to protect life and property on public lands, such as law enforcement, emergency services and firefighting personnel, will be exempted from furlough," she added. "Some administrative offices for the bureaus will be minimally staffed and many will be closed. Ordinary business of these bureaus will be extremely curtailed."
Meanwhile, one official with the Department of Energy said yesterday that the agency could get through a short shutdown without having to furlough any of its employees.
"Unlike other agencies, DOE has some no-year funds [carried over from previous appropriations] that would allow us to continue operating for a limited time," the DOE official said.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told reporters yesterday that, like all federal agencies, his office is working with the Office of Management and Budget to develop contingency plans if the federal government shuts down.
FERC Executive Director Charles Schneider is in direct communication with OMB and "those plans will be worked through," Wellinghoff said -- although he conceded he did not have a detailed plan of what would ensue.
FERC officials who monitor power and gas markets in real-time and ensure the electricity grid is operating reliably would, for example, most likely be confirmed as essential employees and continue working through a shutdown, he said. But initiatives the commission is conducting that have associated deadlines such as pending rulemakings or inquiries could be suspended, Wellinghoff added.
Federal workers are also bracing for the impact. Employee unions already have multiple rallies planned to protest the potential shutdown. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district is home to a large number of federal workers, is set to hold an emergency town hall meeting in Alexandria, Va., tonight to discuss the impact on the federal workforce, contractors and local economy should a shutdown occur.
Reporters Hannah Northey and Emily Yehle contributed.