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Scott Slesinger’s Blog

E. coli contamination could sicken Colorado kids and no fun for kids at wildlife refuges in Day 15 of the GOP's government shutdown

Scott Slesinger

Posted October 15, 2013 in Health and the Environment

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Click here to take action“You've got to get yourself together
You've got stuck in a moment and now you can't get out of it.”—“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out of” by U2

 

U2 at MSG by wikipedia.JPG

It does seem like the Tea Party troubadours who forced the painful and costly government shutdown are stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it. The Senate is reportedly making bipartisan progress on a deal that could end the shutdown and raise the federal debt ceiling so America can pay its bills. But what will the Tea Party radicals do? My hope is they’ll acknowledge they’ve done enough damage to our communities, our economy and our country’s standing in the world.

At the same time, we cannot overlook the ongoing sequester that has cut the Environmental Protection Agency and other domestic agencies to the bone.  EPA staff – when they are working – have been subject to continuing furloughs that have disrupted the agency’s ability to do its job and caused serious morale problems. Spending for the EPA and all other natural resources agencies totals only 1.5 percent of the federal budget, so continuing to cut these agencies, as some are proposing now, can do little to balance the federal budget. That’s why Senate Democrats were right to reject a deal proposed last week by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would have resulted in even more automatic spending cuts.

Every day of the government shutdown more Americans lose. Now moving into the 15th day, we’ll look at two stark ways it’s affecting children. Federal water quality specialists are off the job in Colorado just as flood-borne sewage in rivers threatens to sicken area children. And the GOP’s shutdown has forced the cancellation of dozens, if not hundreds, of kids’ outdoor programs at wildlife refuges where they would learn about wildlife and our fragile but wonderful planet.

The GOP needs to abandon the games and allow Congress to do its basic job: pass a budget that approves spending so our federal employees and millions of other Americans can get to work again doing the business of our nation.

Nature’s been cruel to Colorado, but man-made disasters are, too

2013 colorado floods natl guard courtesy wikipedia.jpg

Natural disasters, on a scale best described as epic, have recently ripped into the fabric of Coloradoans’ lives. Massive wildfires destroyed forests and hundreds of homes in 2012. Then, in September, “biblical” rains fell in Colorado (nine inches  in just one day) and sent floodwaters roaring from Boulder 140 miles east to Sterling. The floods, spanning 13 counties, decimated roads, bridges, dozens of businesses and more than 1,200 homes and other residential structures. Nine people died and damages are estimated to be more than $2 billion.

But then came a man-made disaster. And it really ticked off the state’s governor, John Hickenlooper. He branded those in Congress responsible for the shutdown as “knuckleheads.” His reason was this: The floods dumped about 20 million gallons of raw sewage into Colorado rivers and when state water quality officials recently tested the water in 29 locations of eight rivers they found high levels of E. coli, a bacterium that, in certain strains, can cause severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and fever.

The government shutdown, however, had furloughed federal workers who normally would help with water quality testing, flood recovery and housing assistance. “We’re going to have some sick kids almost for sure just because of the shutdown,” Hickenlooper told ABC News. He also told the Denver Post, “People who are at their most vulnerable, who are going through awful experiences are not getting what they need and are being put at risk because the federal government is locked down. It’s not the appropriate way to negotiate a compromise. It’s almost a hostage situation.”

Republicans: phooey on FUN days for kids

kids at Creamers field wildlife refuge courtesy wikimedia commons.jpg

In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt inaugurated a national wildlife refuge system that has grown to more than 550 refuges and other units safeguarding about 150 million acres of forests, wetlands, deserts, rivers, mountains and valleys. Typically, more than 41 million people a year head into our national wildlife refuges to enjoy the outdoors. And throngs of them are school kids who attend educational programs at refuges to learn about our country’s remarkable wildlife and wonderful wild lands.

That is, until the shutdown forced the refuges to close. This has led to cancelation this month of uncounted numbers of kids’ school programs, from the where America began all the way toa town where America ends.

That river is the James River, home to the first English settlement in 1607 and that passes through the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. Because it’s shuttered, the James River Association, a citizens group dedicated to protecting the river, has had to cancel its “Ecology Day” daytime and overnight programs for 5th through 12th graders this month. Similar shutdown sorrow has spread throughout refuges across the nation, as far away as the town of Kodiak, Alaska, about where America ends.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Teddy’s fifth cousin, signed into law the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to protect Kodiak brown bear habitat. With the shutdown, the refuge, which encompasses most of the Connecticut-sized, largely roadless island wilderness, is closed to all visitors, which is upsetting some of the island’s toddler-sized residents. Why? Every Wednesday morning for about an hour, about 20 children – 3-to-5-year-old sons and daughters of Coast Guardsmen, commercial fishermen, cannery workers, and waitresses – gather at the refuge visitor’s center for the Families Understanding Nature (FUN) program. But with the shutdown, for the second consecutive Wednesday morning, there was no fun for a bunch of Kodiak kids.

See my previous blogs about other hits to our environment and public health under the government shutdown: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/sslesinger/

Photo credits this blog: wikimedia and wikipedia. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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