State environmental regulators are yet another group that has felt put to the test during the government shutdown. For example, a number of state environmental agencies rely on federal grants, as well as cooperative agreements and interagency agreements with federal agencies, in the administration of their delegated environmental programs. According to EPA’s “Contingency Plan for Shutdown”, EPA has over 7,300 active assistance agreements and over 1,400 active interagency agreements. While the Contingency Plan allows the recipients of most funded grants and cooperative agreements to continue work on their projects during EPA shutdown, payments may be suspended or limited, and, if a project reaches a point requiring EPA involvement or approval, the work must stop. Work under various interagency agreements may also be halted or slowed.
As the shutdown has continued, therefore, states have found themselves forced to cut back on their own activities and even furlough their own staff. Some have tried to cope by reallocating funds among existing grants or covering costs with state funds, but such efforts still result in some programs being deprived and are in any case certainly not sustainable. Further, many state activities require frequent contact with or input from EPA staff, and, as noted above, without EPA being open such activities quickly come to a standstill. Even work not normally requiring EPA involvement such as site inspections and enforcement activities has slowed as states have had to send employees home – within a week of the shutdown, the Wyoming, North Carolina, and Arkansas had already furloughed workers for at least some portion of the work week. Other states, including Maine, Illinois, Arizona, Washington, and Virginia soon followed suit.
Hopefully, the deal announced before the Senate this afternoon will make its way over the necessary hurdles efficiently and bring these programs – and all the others that have been affected – some relief sooner rather than later.