The Environmental Impacts of Sequestration

Clean energy development is just one area that will suffer under the economic sequestration In addition to harming the economy, the middle-class and national security, Sequestration cuts will have a disastrous impact on the environment. These cuts will adversely impact air, water, energy, fish, wildlife and national parks.

Sequestration is a series of automatic budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011; it went into effect on March 1, 2013. These spending reductions were ostensibly intended to be so undesirable to both Democrats and Republicans that they would force a compromise. It did not work.

These arbitrary automatic cuts total $85 billion dollars over a seven-month period and by 2021,  these budget reductions will slash $1.2 trillion. A total of 100,000 people are expected to lose their jobs and many thousands more government employees will be furloughed for several days each pay period. These numbers do not include expected layoffs among private sector government contractors.

In addition to the environment, these cuts will impact some of the most vulnerable members of society. In addition to the loss of 10,000 teaching jobs, more than 70,000 kids’ will lose a place in the Head Start program, seniors will lose $43 million for food programs and nutrition assistance will be denied to 600,000 families.

The Food and Drug Administration could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign facilities. The Federal Aviation Administration will have its funding cut by more than $600 million, forcing the majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees to be furloughed for at least one day per pay period.

Cuts to environmental funding will have national implications. According to a White House Report, cuts to environmental funding will hit hard.

The National Science Foundation will be forced to issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards, impacting an estimated 12,000 scientists and students and curtailing critical science, including climate change related research.

The National Parks service will lose $110 million which will force partial or full closures and as many as 1,200 home weatherization professionals may be laid off.

Permitting for solar and wind power plants on federal lands could also slow down. On the upside, the sequestration will likely slow down oil and gas permitting.

The government’s response to extreme weather events is also on the chopping block. There will be a nine percent cut in Sandy relief activities and FEMA will also reduce funding for emergency responders.

These cuts that will effect states all across the country, including funding to ensure clean water and air quality, and funding that prevents pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. Grants for fish and wildlife protection are also adversely impacted.

One of the most destructive impacts of the sequestration will be in the area of clean energy development. As reported in Clean Technica, federal budget sequestration may stall the rapid growth of renewable energy and clean technology. This unfortunate state of affairs confounds the fact that Americans want more renewable energy.

As the League of Conservation Voter’s Deputy Legislative Deputy Director Alex Taurel said, “the funding reductions will be particularly devastating at a time when we are really looking to scale up this industry.”

In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “[sequestration] would also hinder U.S. innovation as global markets for solar energy continue to grow rapidly and become more competitive,”

The sequester will also cut funding for solar-industry job training and arrest studies aimed at creating clean energy zones on public lands. The sequester will also set back efforts to regulate the fracking industry

The partisan fight over sequestration does not bode well for the next looming fiscal fight which must be resolved by March 27th or the government could face a partial shutdown. Another showdown is due to take place in April when Congress is tasked to increase the government’s borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the nations debt for the first time in history.

Those who lay the blame with the President ignore the fact that he has already worked with Congress to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion. Obama has also advocated removing tax benefits for oil and gas companies. While this move is resisted by Republicans in Congress, it was supported by conservative icon Ronald Reagan.

How can the nation move beyond Sequestration? Some have suggested that reductions in entitlement spending could induce Republicans to be less obstructionist. The GOP wants to see reductions in areas like the federal pension system, medical insurance for older Americans and health care for the poor.

However, even concessions on entitlement spending may not be enough for incalcitrant Republicans. As Ezra Klein explained on March 2, “There’s no deal even if Obama agrees to major Republican demands on entitlements. There’s no deal because Republicans don’t want to make a deal that includes taxes, no matter what they get in return for it.”

It takes two sides to compromise and this will not happen as long as the current slate of Republicans control the House. The GOP is once again paralysing Washington with a brand of ideological absolutism that impoverishes the nation and undermines the environment.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: cyrusbulsara, courtesy flickr 






Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor, and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics, and eco-economics.

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