Alaskan GOP pols complain again about their shutdown and a big oil spill goes unreported for a week in Day 14 of the GOP's government shutdown.

Catching_crabs courtesy wikipedia.jpg

"Deadliest Catch" gets caught in shutdown and a big oil spill goes unreported for a week in Day 14 of the GOP shutdown.

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue
In two-oh-one-three, we got shut down by the GOP” - Bo "Diddly" Deans

Columbus Day is normally a federal holiday, but in 2013 there’s nothing normal about the day, thanks to the Tea Party. For one, hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers are on enforced holiday, and many other private sector employees around the country have lost work because of the shutdown.  And, in an odd twist of the law, technically those who are still on the job who want to take the holiday off have to put themselves in for a day of “furlough,” because normal vacation and holiday rules are suspended during the shutdown.

That’s just one of many absurdities I’ve been chronicling over the past two weeks. Safety inspectors that aren’t inspecting, response centers that aren’t responding, wide open spaces that are closed, costs that are escalating because money can’t be spent, and, overall, a government that isn’t really governing. Of course, this is all because Republican legislators aren’t legislating, that is, doing one of the most basic jobs assigned to them in the constitution: passing the budget that funds the federal government.

The logic of the shutdown may seem unreal, but it risks impinging on the stars of a popular reality show, “The Deadliest Catch:” the fishing boat crews who brave the storms of the Bering Sea for Alaska red king crab are stuck in port awaiting permits from a shuttered federal agency. And it turns out that the National Response Center waited eight days to report a major oil spill in North Dakota.

The Republicans in Congress need to get real and get the American government, and hundreds of thousands of the American people back to work.

The Deadliest Kvetch

Once again, Republican politicians from Alaska are complaining about the harm to Alaska residents caused by the government shutdown that their party has caused. First it was Republican governor Sean Parnell phoning the Interior Secretary to complain about the closing of Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges to hunters and anglers. Now it’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young firing off a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to demand that she get Alaska’s red king crab fishery open on time because otherwise there could be “significant economic harm to fishermen and processors.”

Not to mention TV ratings. These crabbers are the heroes of the hit reality show “The Deadliest Catch,” which treats viewers to scenes of crews manhandling 800-pound crab pot in howling gales and tossing seas. Their new fishing season is due to start Tuesday, Oct. 15.  But they can’t operate without permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has been largely closed by the GOP shutdown. (The enforcement division, however, remains open.) Crabbers, with a total catch worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, are anxious to get going because if the opening is delayed too long, they’ll miss the lucrative window for selling to Japan, where Alaska king crab in high demand for the holiday season.  And while they’re waiting in port for their permits, boat owners run up expenses of as much as $1,000 a day for mooring fees, crew pay, and other costs.  Republicans Murkowski and Young (along with another GOPer, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state) told Pritzker in a letter Wednesday that despite the shutdown they voted for, “We believe you have adequate authority to proceed with the issuance” of the necessary permits.

Public notice of major oil spill delayed a week by shutdown

There was a major oil spill in North Dakota in late September; one of the biggest spills in the country in recent years, it occurred when an underground pipe spewed some 26,000 barrels of crude oil—or more than 865,200 gallons—onto a wheat field near Tioga, N.D. The oil, from the nearby Bakken shale oil fields, was gushing from the pipe “like a faucet,” farmer Steven Jensen, who discovered the spill, told the Reuters wire service.  Although the spill was reported to the government Sept. 30, the report wasn’t made publicly available by the National Response Center until days later, on October 8. Reason:  the government shutdown.

ND_Bakken_Drill_Pipe courtesy wikimedia.JPG
The NRC is supposed to be a high-tech, high-powered agency, “the sole national point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological and etiological discharges into the environment anywhere in the United States and its territories.”  It is supposed to make reports of worrisome incidents to, as appropriate, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, EPA, FEMA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pentagon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others.  But even this key hub in our nation’s emergency response system is not immune from the Tea Party’s ruinous shutdown.  Now the Response Center’s website notes, “Due to government shutdown, some services may not be available.”  And the “Incident Summaries” page appears to be down. 

The pipeline owner, Tesoro Logistics, says it moved quickly to contain the spill, which soaked about 7 acres of a North Dakota wheat field, and estimates it will spend $4 million to clean up the site. Unlike the most recent major U.S. oil spill, up to 7,000 barrels of heavy Canadian tar sands crude that spewed from a broken pipe in Mayflower, Arkansas, earlier this year, a North Dakota state official told the Williston Herald, “No water, surface water or ground water was impacted.”  If so, that’s a lucky break, but there’s a reason the government is supposed to post incident reports right away: so the public can find out about environmental threats to their communities. Environmental disasters don’t take furloughs.

photo credit: crabbing boat courtesy wikipedia; ND Bakken Drill Pipe, courtesy wikimedia commons