WASHINGTON -- If the federal government halts nonessential services at midnight tonight, the EPA will temporarily stop certifying that 2012 vehicles and fuels meet emission standards, and the Transportation Department will suspend rulemaking and safety investigations, government officials said.
House and Senate leaders met with President Obama on Thursday and are heading down to the wire today in talks to reach an agreement on the fiscal 2011 budget through Sept. 30.
If Congress fails to reach agreement today, it's unclear how long the 800,000 nonessential federal workers -- out of 2.1 million nationwide -- will be furloughed.
"I'm not aware of any interfaces that industry has with government that are super time-critical right now," said Wade Newton, an Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman. "If the shutdown is short, the government could make up the losses quickly. If it's a long, protracted shutdown, it could be a different story."
The Alliance is a Washington lobbying group that represents the Detroit 3, Toyota and seven other automakers.
An EPA official who asked not to be named said in an e-mail: "EPA review and analysis to ensure that new vehicles and fuels meet emission standards to protect air quality and public health would not continue." The EPA certifies that 2012 cars and lights trucks meet greenhouse gas emission standards to reduce air pollution.
The EPA also is in talks with automakers, the state of California, environmental groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to propose 2017-25 fuel economy and pollution standards.
NHTSA said in an e-mail that its "rulemaking and enforcement activities -- including defect investigations -- will be suspended."
If a safety issue arises, however, "key staff can be called back to work," NHTSA said.
Among the rule proposals whose development would be suspended are those that stem from Toyota's unintended acceleration problems in the last 18 months. These include rules to standardize keyless ignition systems, brake-override systems and event-data recorders, or black boxes.
NHTSA is conducting dozens of safety investigations, including one into as many as 3 million Jeep Grand Cherokees from 1993-2004 model years for possibly defective fuel tanks that can result in fiery crashes.
A sticking point in negotiations between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-run House is a policy rider that has nothing to do with spending. This rider would block the EPA from setting pollution standards on vehicles, including those in 2017-25 model years.
Republican-backed legislation to curb the EPA's role passed the House this week and was stymied in the Senate.