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Government Shutdown Impacting Environmental Protection

Government Shutdown Impacting Environmental Protection

The impact of the federal government shutdown on environmental protection was the topic of a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Ca) and Ben Nelson (D-Fl) said the nation's air and water quality is in danger from the shutdown. "93% of the employees at the EPA have been furloughed. And these employees are unable to insure that our water is safe to drink and our water is safe to drink," said Senator Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She also said that 505 Superfund sites in 47 states are not being cleaned up due to the shutdown.

Senator Cardin, who chairs the EPW's Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, said the shutdown is having an impact on research into the best rules and regulation to protect the environment. "8,000 employees at the Fish and Wildlife {Service} are furloughed. Some of the brightest scientists in the world are at home today rather than doing their work to give us the information so we can have the right rules and regulations to protect our environment," he said.

In addition, 561 wildlife refuges and wetlands are closed to the public due to the government shutdown. These refuges welcome  40-million visitors each year, many from outside of the country, and they rent kayaks and bicycles, and pay money to local tour guide operators to take them through these environmental sites. Senator Cardin said the closure of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore has affected local business people. "Ask them in Cambridge what impact it's having on their economy. Ask the restaurant owner that now sees half the tables empty that would have been filled. Whether that shopowner will be able to survive. That's what at stake here," he says.

Senator Boxer called the shutdown and its impact  a "self-inflicted hurricane by the right wing of this country on their livelihood."

Also attending the news conference was Dr. T. Peter Ruance, the President and CEO of American Road and Transportation Builders. He said 129 projects in 35 states are going through the environmental impact process, and now that's come to a halt because of the shutdown. "If environmental regulators can't do their jobs, we can't do ours," says Dr. Ruane.

The Senators called on John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to bring a resolution which would fund the government to the floor of the House for a vote. But Boehner will not do that, siding with a wing of the Republican Party which says it will support a resolution to fund the government, if there's a clause that will either defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, which critics have called "Obamacare."

"I know the Republicans continue to say that we should be negotiating. We made that clear that we've always been willing to negotiate on any issue. You can't do it with a gun at your head," says Senator Cardin.

During a news conference at the White House on Tuesday, President Obama sharpened his criticism of GOP lawmakers who won't vote to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling. He said Republicans don't get to demand what voters rejected and then threaten a recession. House Speaker Boehner said the President is demanding surrender and renewed his call for a conversation.

 

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