Environmentality: How the government shutdown affects the environment


Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett // Vanderbilt Hustler

Kailey Newcome

The United States government has now been shut down for 25 days, making it the longest government shutdown in American history. While President Trump and Congress go head to head in an attempt to agree on budget issues, other entities are facing bigger dilemmas. TSA officers have gone weeks without pay, tax refunds will likely be delayed as over four-fifths of U.S. Treasury workers have been sent home and February food stamps may even be cut entirely. A more silent victim in this prolonged debate has been the environment. From national parks to toxic substances flying by without detection, our environment has been suffering during this chaotic period.

Allowing national parks to remain open during government shutdown was a recent policy change. Some citizens in the past disliked the parks’ closure during this period, as it disrupted tourism and local businesses that depended on that tourism. However, the decision to keep them open has proven to be a poor decision. Besides environmental destruction caused by minimal to no maintenance, vandalism, and vehicles and visitors entering restricted areas, larger parks are being flooded with human waste from backed up lavatories and litter from lack of trash clean up. This degradation to some of the United States’ most pristine parks has damaged the parks’ natural ecosystems for years, if not indefinitely. Some of the larger parks are looking into using some of their visitor fees to help halt the massive environmental effects. However, this money is not nearly enough to help remediate the issue, and will only use up more funds that are needed to fix the current maintenance backlog.

Besides harm being done to our national parks, there is also toxic substances infiltrating our daily environments. Most people heard about the large E. coli outbreak a month ago. With the government shutdown, the United States is extremely susceptible to falling victim to another large contamination. This is because the FDA, who has jurisdiction over monitoring 80 percent of the national food supply, is currently not running. Further, the EPA is also currently not operating. Monitoring of toxic substances has completely stopped, meaning that our air and water could easily be polluted, and American citizens would have no way of knowing.

Aquatic ecosystems are also feeling the weight of the government shutdown. Government programs in charge of rescuing marine animals from choking on plastic contaminants, getting stranded on land and aquatic illnesses have halted all of their emergency aid. In 2012, these programs saved nearly 4,500 aquatic species. Unfortunately, if a marine animal has an emergency during the government shutdown, it will not be saved.

Lastly, environmental research that is federally funded has been placed on hold. Some of these projects are an integral part of finding solutions to global warming and monitoring and fixing pollution issues, among others. This block could cause problematic data gaps, ones that could ruin progress in projects that have been worked on for months, if not years. Not only is the government shutdown completely destroying the natural environment, it’s also ruining any chance at fixing the environmental issues that already exist.

The government shutdown has generated many issues across America. Though not as evident as others, the environment is one of the biggest victims of the shutdown. It has been catastrophic towards national parks, air quality, aquatic ecosystems and towards fixing any of the aforementioned issues. Hopefully the government shutdown ends quickly, because our environment will not be able to withstand this kind of ruin for long.