A Fox News anchor suggested that since the majority of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees have been furloughed under the government shutdown, we should simply do without them even after it has been resolved. However, EPA employees furloughed include those in charge of cleaning up hundreds of hazardous waste sites and enforcing clean air and water laws.
On Wednesday, Fox News' America's Newsroom noted that less than 7 percent of the over 16,000 EPA employees would be working during the government shutdown (about 1,000 total employees). Co-anchor Martha MacCallum laughed that “some” have “asked why we need the other 15,000 EPA workers at all,” adding that these were “valid questions”:
The "some" who are asking this are several Republican lawmakers behind the government shutdown. For instance, Rep. Steve Stockman who has rallied for the shutdown, tweeted a Washington Examiner article suggesting furloughed employees may be “non-essential” long-term, and re-tweeted a follower celebrating the idea that they wouldn't return:
However, in addition to employees that are fulfilling the EPA's legal obligation to set standards under the Clean Air and Water acts according to the most up to date scientific understanding, there are many other furloughed EPA employees conducting important work for the agency.
For instance, only 182 of the 804 employees in charge of enforcing “regulations by taking legal action against an air or water polluter” are exempted from furloughs, according to Reuters. This is despite evidence that many regulations have not been sufficiently enforced. A September 2009 New York Times investigation found that the fact that “an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to meet a federal health benchmark in other ways” is partially because the “vast majority” of those who have violated clean water laws have avoided punishment. In April, a fertilizer plant in Texas killed at least 15 people when it exploded after falling through the cracks of several agencies in charge of regulating it, including the EPA.
Additionally, clean up at 505 Superfund sites in 47 states (out of 800 Superfund sites) has been suspended under the shutdown, according to The Huffington Post. Superfund sites are places that the EPA helps restore to safe conditions when hazardous waste in the area poses a threat to local ecosystems or people. The first site on the Superfund list was the infamous Love Canal, where deadly chemicals harmed pregnant women and children, forcing hundreds out of their homes. A 2010 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that “EPA's Costs to Remediate Existing And Future [Superfund] Sites Will Likely Exceed Current Funding Levels.”
UPDATE(10/3/13): Suggesting that the shutdown should be continued indefinitely for the EPA has become something of a talking point at Fox News. Dana Perino, co-host of Fox News' The Five, said that when furloughed EPA employees are “working they're actually making life hell for millions of Americans.” John Stossel said that “the Earth won't notice the difference if you shut the EPA for ten years.” And Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked if around 93 percent of EPA employees were declared “non-essential” for preventing imminent threats to human life or property, “why are they there in the first place?”