This Sequester Thing Is Gonna Wreak Havoc on the Environment

The National Park Service budget, for example, is expected to be slashed by $110 million.

The Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest in the United States and third largest in the world, and it's colored bacteria and microbial mats is seen in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, on June 22, 2011. (Photo: Jim Urquhart / Reuters)


Mar 1, 2013· 4 MIN READ
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison Fairbrother has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

It’s day one of the federal budget sequestration, a series of automatic spending cuts for which the nation has been bracing for months. If the cuts go into effect today as expected, 1.2 trillion will be cut from the federal budget over the next decade, including 85 billion this year.

Reduced services and access will make families planning summer vacations think twice about coming to a national park.

President Obama and congressional leaders met earlier today to discuss sequestration, but the deadlock appears to be insurmountable. If nothing changes, cuts will be fully implemented on March 27, and sequestration will bring horrible news for the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the natural resources you enjoy.

Here’s a roundup of likely environmental impacts:

Clean Air and Water

Sequestration will undermine efforts to ensure that air and water are clean, as well as create obstacles for the prevention of pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste, the White House Council on Environmental Quality has said. There will be a reduction of 154 million in federal funding for state environmental programs. New York will lose the most federal environmental funding, a reduction of 12.87 million, but all states will likely be impacted.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may shut down for three days next week, and a five percent cut to EPA’s budget is expected this fiscal year, which will translate into fewer regulatory inspections, less money for water quality projects, cuts to air pollution monitoring, and the slashing of research funding that would have helped communities adapt to climate change, then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson wrote earlier this month.

The agency has long known that sequestration would spell disaster for public health. “Spending may be forced to be slashed in an irresponsible manner that can endanger the public health protections that we rely on,” Jackson warned last year in testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Public Parks and Lands

More than half of the 2.1 million people employed by the federal government may be required to take unpaid furloughs if agencies are forced to prune their budgets.

Among those, the National Park Service has been bracing for extensive furloughs and layoffs of temporary workers, delayed spring opening times for some of the nation’s most popular parks, reduced maintenance of hiking trails and paths, and the scaling back of emergency rescue operations and response teams.

The National Park Service budget is expected to be slashed by 110 million, a devastating cut for an agency already stretched-thin by limited funding.

“There will be wide ranging and long term consequences,” National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis wrote in a frank memo to park employees, obtained by TakePart. “Reduced services and access will make families planning summer vacations think twice about coming to a national park,” he wrote. “A drop in visitation could have devastating effects on the economies of gateway communities who depend on visitor spending.”

At the time of Jarvis’ memo, the National Park Service had just released the impressive statistic that park visitor spending in 2011 had pumped 30 billion in the national economy.

Joan Anzelmo of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, pointed out in an interview with TakePart that March 1 marks the anniversary of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the first protected national park in the world.

“It’s an ironic twist that the sequester ax is coming down across the board today, including cuts to the National Park Service," she said. Yellowstone's spring opening is already facing a three week delay, to save money on snow-plowing.

Fish and Wildlife

Approximately 46 million of federal funding will be withheld from state fish and wildlife programming due to sequestration. According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, at risk are critical research and monitoring of fish and wildlife populations, public access to wildlife refuges, fish hatcheries and fish stocking programs, hunter safety and education courses, and boating programs.

These programs are expected to impact fishermen, hunters, and outdoor sportsmen, and all others who use and enjoy the natural resources managed by state fish and wildlife agencies.

Fish stocking programs are particularly at risk. "They are going to feel the pinch very early in the process," said Jennifer Mock Schaeffer, government affairs director at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. "There will be fewer fish and smaller fish for recreational anglers to enjoy."

Schaeffer points out that the economic consequences will be profound. "When anglers go fishing, they spend money fueling up their cars, buying food, purchasing equipment from the local sporting goods store or corner bait shop, and that's money that goes into the local economy."

Spending cuts will also have ramifications for endangered species, as well. State agencies will be restricted in their ability to manage wildlife diversity, and provide suitable protections for threatened or endangered species. There will be less money to restore habitats in order to prevent the loss of native animals.

Sue Rechner, CEO of Confluence Watersports, a major manufacturer of outdoor equipment, wrote a guest blog on the White House Office of Environmental Quality website stressing the importance of outdoor recreation to our economy (a recent study estimated that outdoor recreation generates 646 billion in direct spending), and urging Congress to avoid “arbitrary spending cuts” that would directly affect outdoor recreation, an overlooked economic engine in the U.S.

Clean Energy

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said that the sequester could block progress on the development of renewable energy.

Speaking at the Offshore Wind Power USA conference this week, Salazar expressed deep concern with potential impacts of sequestration.

“We have made impressive gains—approving dozens of utility-scale solar, wind, and geothermal projects in the West, and transitioning from planning to commercial leasing for offshore wind. The potentially devastating impact of budget reductions under sequestration could slow our economy and hurt energy sector workers and businesses,” Salazar said in his address, reported on by Clean Technica.

In addition, spending cuts will impact training for solar jobs, home weatherization, and energy research.

The Future

Ironically, these cuts come at a time when many Americans acknowledge that environmental spending is critical. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, released mere days before the sequester, 76 percent of Americans think spending on the environment should increase or remain the same.

Our leaders are going to have to step up—and fast—to avoid long-term devastation.

"Federal agencies want to be able to carry out their missions. These are mandated missions legislated by our Congress," Joan Anzelmo said. "This sequester is making the U.S. look foolish in the eyes of the world. Citizens deserve better from our country than this."

How worried are you about the ecological effects of the sequester? Tell us in the COMMENTS.