Now that the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration” are here, we’re getting a clearer look at what it will mean for our environment. In these economic times, budget cuts are a fact of life. But these non-targeted, across-the-board cuts are likely to have real consequences for our environment:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have to cut the funding it gives states to monitor their air quality.
- EPA says it will likely have to shut down some critical air monitoring sites that check for dangerous pollutants like ozone and particulate matter.
- EPA also says it will have to reduce the number of “environmental cops on the beat” – the people who monitor compliance with our environmental laws. They estimate they’ll do 1,000 fewer inspections this year. That means more polluters will get away with putting our health at risk.
- Funding that was given to communities to repair or replace decaying water and wastewater infrastructure will be cut. That puts your local safe drinking water at risk.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have to cut grants for state and local firefighters and other emergency management personnel. That will make it harder to respond to the next hurricane, tornado, or other weather disaster – at a time when those weather disasters are intensifying because of climate change.
- The Agriculture Department says it will treat as many as 200,000 fewer acres for hazardous fuel because of budget cuts. That means a higher risk of wildfires.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will delay the launch of two new satellites that are designed to track severe weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes.
- NOAA will also cut back on maintenance and operations of some its other weather systems — including the national radar system that’s used for tornado warnings. The Secretary of Commerce, who oversees NOAA, warned that sequestration will:
significantly increas[e] forecast error and, the government's ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.
- NOAA will also have to reduce the surveying that goes into nautical charts, which would put navigation – and the millions of dollars of commerce that depends on it – at risk.
- Sequestration may force national parks across the country to close, or to operate with shorter hours. Reports say Yellowstone may open three weeks late to save money on snow plowing.
- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the reopening of the Statue of Liberty after Hurricane Sandy will likely be delayed.
- Salazar and the head of the Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, say sequestration will cut into their ability to staff national parks, fight fires, and clean up after winter storms.
- Sequestration will force reductions in funding for fishery stock assessments, which will jeopardize our ability to open economically vital fisheries from the Gulf Coast to Alaska.
- Sequestration also means fewer people to enforce laws against overfishing. The Commerce Department says they may have to compensate with smaller quotas or early closure to the fishing season.
All of the above examples are from memos written by agency heads to Congressional leaders about the potential effects of sequestration. There will undoubtedly be other effects – and we don’t know what they’ll be.
Of course, today’s budget issues pale in comparison to the financial disasters that loom ahead of us – the amount we'll have to spend to recover from stronger storms, droughts, and other extreme weather as climate change accelerates.
We're leaving our kids a huge bill to pay.