"The First Cuts Are the Deepest: Sequester Cuts Increase Health, Climate Risks"
“I don’t know whether it’s [sequester] going to hurt the economy or not. I don’t think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.” — John Boehner, 3/3/13
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) claims he did not know whether the automatic budget cuts (or sequester) imposed by the Budget Control Act would hurt Americans, but he must not have been paying attention. In February, the Center for American Progress predicted that “Sequester Will Expose Americans to Greater Health Risks and Other Perils.”
Ten weeks after the budget sequester took effect on March 1, the House Appropriations Committee Democrats released “Report on Sequestration Effects and Efforts to Mitigate its Impact.” This brand new analysis confirms many of our predictions that the sequester cuts threaten Americans’ health, safety and well-being.
The sequester cuts in energy and environment related programs generally have had the following impacts so far:
- Less ability to fight wildfires
- Greater exposure to climate related extreme weather
- Less protection from air pollution
- Reduced protection for national parks and other protected places
Climate Progress Deputy Editor Ryan Koronowski described the impact of budget cuts on our ability to fight wildfires this summer in what many experts believe will be quite a vicious fire season.
The sequester will expose Americans to additional risks from climate change. The House Appropriations Committee Democrats report that
The sequester will result in a cut of at least $50 million from NOAA’s geostationary weather satellite program, which provides continuous monitoring to track severe weather. The cut will cause a 3-6 month satellite launch delay, increasing the likelihood of having fewer than two operational geostationary weather satellites in the 2017 timeframe, increasing the risk of inaccurate forecasts for hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, with further risks to public safety and costs from weather-related damage.
In addition, NASA’s science budget cuts will affect “climate research satellites.”
These cuts follow two years when the 25 most severe climate related floods, drought, storms, heat waves, and wildfires took 1,107 lives and caused $188 billion in damages. A CAP analysis estimated that taxpayers spent a total of $136 billion on relief and recovery for these and other disasters that occurred in 2011-2012 — about $400 per home per year. The reduction in weather forecasting and climate research will hamper our ability to warn vulnerable communities about future extreme weather events, increasing their risk.
The House report also found that the Environmental Protection Agency will have less ability to protect people from air pollution.
EPA plans to delay the implementation of monitoring sites for dangerous air pollutants and cut grants to State regulators. The result will be reduced enforcement of air pollution rules, potentially overturning years of public health benefits from increasing air pollution.
For instance, this will reduce the number of “off-road monitors” that measure levels of smog-forming chemicals. In addition, cuts will make it more difficult for state agencies to enforce restrictions on pollution, according to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
Federal enforcement of environmental safeguards is also impaired. Doug Parker, the director of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) warned that:
There are areas where there were boots on the ground where there are no longer boots on the ground…. There are significant geographic regions we can no longer cover.
Polluters know that if there are fewer cops on the beat then they can emit more toxic and other harmful pollutants with less risk of discovery.
As Climate Progress has repeatedly noted, it is imperative that we speed the conversion from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewable energy. But we will continue to rely on oil and natural gas to fuel our transportation and electricity, respectively, while this transition is underway. It is to our economic and security benefit to produce these fuels here, including from public lands and waters set aside for that purpose (though not through allowing drilling in currently protected places). Yet the House report determined that the U.S. will produce less domestic fuel due to the sequester.
The Bureau of Land Management is forced to slow down approval of oil and gas drilling permits and cancel lease sales to meet the spending reductions required by the sequester. 300 to 400 fewer drilling permits will be processed, 150 fewer leases issued, and two lease sales cancelled this year, all as a direct result of the sequester. There will be an estimated $150 million in revenue losses to the States and U.S. Treasury because of these reduced lease sales and drilling permits.
The sequester will also curtail Americans ability to hunt, fish, hike, boat, and otherwise enjoy our millions of acres of wild places. The House report found that:
The public should be prepared for reduced hours and services this year at our nation’s 401 national parks, 155 national forests, 561 national wildlife refuges, and more than 258 public land units. For the National Park Service alone, the sequester means that 900 permanent positions are being left unfilled and 1000 fewer seasonal workers are being hired this year.
Fewer employees means fewer staff at visitor centers, and less interpretive talks and campfire programs that the public has come to expect when they visit these special wild places.
These are just some of the risks posed by this meat ax approach to cutting government spending at a time when the federal budget deficit is already shrinking. Americans can’t afford more of this untargeted austerity.