Federal Shutdown Halts Some Environmental Conservation Efforts, Slows Others

Jan 8, 2019
Originally published on January 14, 2019 1:36 pm

Federal researchers in western Massachusetts study ways to protect migrating fish, backyard birds and urban trees. The government shutdown is keeping them home and away from their research.

The researchers work for agencies like the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Curt Griffin heads the UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation, where some of the scientists are based.

“It’s a very, very unfortunate event that our federal colleagues are caught up in this mess,” Griffin said. “And it’s not fair to them. It’s not fair to the public that they provide important services to. So it’s just a very broken system, and they’re caught in the middle.”

Only a few miles away in Hadley, Massachusetts, work at the Northeast office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also on hold.

Federal employees there focus on conservation in 13 states from Maine to Virginia — including rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, and researching white nose syndrome, a disease that's killed millions of bats.

“Due to a lapse in funding of the federal government budget, I am out of the office,” said Terri Edwards in a recorded telephone greeting. Edwards is the chief of public affairs in the Northeast office. “I’m not authorized to work during this time, but I will respond to your message when I return to the office.”

Only those workers deemed essential are at work.

The same is true at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

John Bickerman is an EPA subcontractor who is mediating the bitter dispute over the toxic waste cleanup of the Housatonic River.

Although some of his funding comes from General Electric, he said the EPA is not able to take part in the mediation right now.

“While there is an argument that I could probably participate in having conversations with nongovernmental parties in the Housatonic mediation, the reality is, without the EPA’s participation, we are pretty much dead in the water until the shutdown ends,” Bickerman said. 

Progress on the cleanup of the Housatonic River already faced obstacles, due to a disagreement between General Electric and the EPA over where to dispose the toxic waste.

Now a government shutdown is slowing it down even further.

A regular citizens' meeting on the Housatonic cleanup scheduled for this week in Lenox has been postponed. 

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly indicated that there are "thousands" of federal workers in western Massachusetts working for the Department of the Interior impacted by the shutdown. Reports say there are fewer than 2,000.

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