Archive for the ‘Government Shutdown’ Category

Congress’ Dance with Solyndra

Photo by Dominic. Some rights reserved.

As many are no doubt aware, bi-partisan squabbles over the amount of federal funding given to FEMA for disaster relief nearly de-railed Congress from passing a one-week spending measure that would fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year (which ends Friday), resulting in the second close breeze in the last two months with a government shutdown. Fortunately, FEMA rose to the occasion, stating that they had enough money to coast by for the next year, and allowing Democrats and Republicans alike to table the issue of FEMA funding and just pass the bill already!

What a majority of folks may not know, however, is that another large factor in the Congressional crossfire was a Department of Energy program approved by the Obama White House that bestowed $535 million in “conditional loans” to a Fremont, CA based solar power company called Solyndra. Language in the original Senate spending bill reserved $100 million to go to Solyndra, while language in the House-approved bill rescinded that money, something that became a key factor in getting the spending bill passed through the House with 71 votes. Once FEMA had stated that it had enough money to make it through the fiscal year, the money set aside for Solyndra began to seem less crucial to both sides of Congress.

This was a moot point in either case, however, because Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 31, laying off 1100 employees abruptly and shutting down all operations and manufacturing. Shortly after the company closed its doors, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) requested an outside investigation of the $535 million loan guarantee, accusing Obama’s support of the program as “the kind of taxpayer-funded cronyism this White House said it would eliminate” (Aside: Never mind that there are several Republican lawmakers in Congress who have requested similar funding for subsidizing equally costly energy programs in their home states, as reported in this very worthwhile NY Times article). Then, a separate FBI investigation of Solyndra and its finances was launched on September 8th, much to the surprise of the company’s former management.

So, suffice it to say that no more federal money will be routed in Solyndra’s direction, and the company, once the Obama Administration’s go-to example for efficient green energy, has much bigger worries on its plate then whether or not it will receive a measly $100 million in funds anyways. Whatever comes out of Solyndra’s numerous investigations and the GOP’s allegations of cronyism, this whole issue has proven to be a fascinating look into two heated partisan approaches to energy policy and funding.

Government Shutdown Versus The Environment

An article published in Law360 by law firm Faegre & Benson used as an example the recent government shutdown in Minnesota to demonstrate the potentially unforeseen impacts of such a shutdown on the environment and environmental regulation.

Photo by Phil Roeder. Some rights reserved.

The most tangible interruption seemed to be the permitting and review process usually undertaken by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. An estimated 240 construction stormwater permits would have been reviewed during the 20-day shutdown had everything been running normally.

And what would such a shutdown look like at the federal level, for the EPA?

While the budget itself almost crippled the EPA – riders that would have prevented the EPA from regulating GHG emissions were cut from the final agreement at the last minute – the narrowly missed shutdown could have had widespread effects on businesses, parks, and more.

A piece in the Huffington Post recalls the last government shutdown, in which 600+ sites halted toxic waste cleanup work, 300+ National Park Service sites were closed, and 12 national marine sanctuaries were shut down. Not to mention the approximately 18,000 employees at the EPA that were furloughed for the duration of the shutdown.

Of course, this is all according to plan. The Antideficiency Act (31 USC 1341, 1342) authorizes agencies to incur obligations in advance of appropriations only in certain “excepted” situations. For instance, agency functions that addresses emergency circumstances, such that the suspension of the function would imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property, may continue to perform during a shutdown. Examples of excepted activities at the EPA include certain Superfund response site work and emergency response readiness operations.

The week of April 4th, when a government shutdown seemed well within the realm of possibility, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent an email to EPA employees, urging them to plan for an “orderly shutdown.” A few days later, the EPA released a Contingency Plan for Shutdown, which got down to the nitty gritty of who was to do what, when, and how, in the event of an actual shutdown.

We scraped by un-shutdown this time, but given the recent economic volatility, I suppose I should at least feel relieved that there’s a plan in place in the face of chaos. Let’s just hope we never have to use it.

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