The government shutdown might only be a partial one, but not when it comes to federal climate efforts.
Among the dozens of agencies and departments shuttered by the shutdown—now in its 14th day—are several shops that spearhead the government's response to global warming, notably NASA, NOAA, the Agriculture Department and EPA.
The impact, so far, has been irritating if not terribly consequential, said activists, analysts and former agency officials. Travel has been curtailed, for example, and research largely has been put on hold.
But they warned that the problems would multiply if President Trump and congressional Democrats can't reach a deal quickly to reopen the federal government.
"The inevitable result [of a shutdown] is that everything costs more and you do less," said Keith Cowing, editor of the space publication NASA Watch.
Most of NASA's workforce has been furloughed, with the exception of top officials and those who work on critical missions such as the continued operation of the International Space Station.
That puts NASA's climate scientists in a strange position, Cowing said. Their instruments and satellites still will collect data, but few if any researchers will be around to analyze the information.
"What's affecting them is affecting every mission at NASA," he said. "There's nobody there. The lights are not on."
It's a similar situation at NOAA. A planning document released last month by the Trump administration ordered the suspension of "most research activities" at NOAA in the event of a shutdown.
That's a bad thing—and not just for NOAA scientists, said Addie Haughey, the associate director of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group.
She said a broad swath of people rely on NOAA for new data, and during a government shutdown, "there's no one to make it available to the public."
Another impact, Haughey added, was the restriction on travel.
Federal officials generally are prohibited from hitting the road during a shutdown, and that means affected agencies won't be represented at major conferences—such as the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society next week in Arizona.
"The current partial government shutdown is frustrating for all of us, but especially for our government employee colleagues who are directly affected," Roger Wakimoto, the group's president, said in a statement.
Over at USDA, climate change efforts are overseen by the Office of the Chief Economist.
A shutdown memo released by the department noted that just about everyone in that division would be furloughed, save a handful of staff. The memo anticipated problems, as well.
"The most significant OCE activity that may lapse during a shutdown is the preparation and release of the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report," according to the memo.
Former EPA officials said one issue to watch is how the shutdown could affect the agency's rulemaking process—including the Trump administration's efforts to replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era initiative aimed at cutting emissions from power plants.
"Rulemakings have to consider and respond to public comments. If they don't, it increases the risk that courts will find them arbitrary and capricious," said former EPA acting Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg. "With no staff to review comments and prepare responses, any effort to rush rulemakings through will only increase this legal risk."
Although that might sound like a good thing to environmentalists, another former EPA official warned that a disruption to the rulemaking schedule can inhibit public input.
"It adds confusion to the process," said Mark Hague, a former EPA regional administrator. It "makes it harder for the public to be a part of the dialogue," he said.
Bob Perciasepe, who once served as EPA's second in command, said he's worried about the shutdown's impact on staff morale.
The agency was in turmoil for months under the leadership of former Administrator Scott Pruitt, and a shutdown is just another unneeded headache.
"My hope is that this kind of management of government doesn't further deplete the talent that is at the EPA," Perciasepe said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.