WASHINGTON, DC, February 24, 2013 (ENS) – If Congress does not act this coming week, automatic federal spending cuts, called the sequester, will go into effect March 1 that will impact the environment. Funding for parks, energy development, travel, clean air and water, fish and wildlife protection, pollution prevention, and disaster readiness will be cut.

Known as the sequester, the cuts will amount to $85 billion dollars over a seven-month period; 100,000 people are expected to lose their jobs and many thousands more are government employees who will be furloughed for several days each pay period.

These cuts are aimed at achieve the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances, the White House says.

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about a trillion dollars of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. These arbitrary cuts were designed to make them so unattractive that Democrats and Republicans would get together and find a compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and finding other ways to raise revenue.

That compromise has not been reached. Today the White House issued an overall national projection and a state-by-state look at what the sequester will mean in many areas of American life, including the environment.

Sandy containers

U.S. EPA crews search for and remove hazardous containers scattered by Superstorm Sandy in Jamaica Bay and Great South Bay, Long Island, New York, December 8, 2012. (U.S. EPA photo by Jeanethe Falvey)

Disaster recovery Superstorm Sandy – If it’s a discretionary program, there would be a nine percent cut in Sandy relief activities over a seven month period,  White House staffers said on a teleconference with reporters today.

Emergency responders – FEMA would need to reduce funding for State and local grants that support firefighter positions and State and local emergency management personnel, hampering America’s ability to respond to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and other emergencies.

National parks – Many of the 398 national parks across the country would be partially or fully closed, with shortened operating hours, closed facilities, reduced maintenance, and cuts to visitor services. These parks closures will hurt the many small businesses and regional economies that depend on nearby national parks to attract visitors to their region.

Energy development – Nationwide, development of oil and gas on federal lands and waters would slow down, due to cuts in programs at the Department of the Interior and other agencies that plan for new projects, conduct environmental reviews, issue permits and inspect operations. Leasing of new federal lands for future development would also be delayed, with fewer resources available for agencies to prepare for and conduct lease sales.

Scientific advancement – The National Science Foundation would issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards, impacting an estimated 12,000 scientists and students and curtailing critical scientific research.

Food Safety – The Food and Drug Administration could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture food products while USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service may have to furlough all employees for two weeks. These reductions could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions of dollars in lost production volume.

Travel Safety – One of the most noticeable effects of the sequester will be at the nation’s airports. The Federal Aviation Administration would suffer a funding cut of more than $600 million, forcing an immediate retrenchment of core functions. A majority of the FAA’s nearly 47,000 employees would be furloughed for at least one day per pay period, with a maximum of two days per pay period.

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Planes lined up waiting to take off at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (Photo by ATIS547)

As a result, air traffic would be cut back to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff, resulting in slower air traffic in major cities, as well as delays and disruptions across the country during the critical summer travel season.

On Friday at the White House Transport Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters the furlough of air traffic controllers and technicians would require a reduction in air traffic to a level that could be safely managed by the remaining staff. And that will mean long waits at airports.

The Transportation Security Administration would reduce its frontline workforce, increasing passenger wait times at airport security checkpoints by up to 50 percent. TSA would begin a hiring freeze in March, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days.

But LaHood says safety – both in the air and on the ground – will be maintained.

“Number one is safety. Always has been, always will be,” said the secretary. “We never take a back seat when it comes to safety. We will never compromise safety – ever. Never have and never will.”

A Republican, LaHood represented Illinois’s 18th congressional district in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2009. In his view, House Republicans “need to step up here” to solve the sequester crisis with compromise as he and his colleagues did under House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the Clinton Pesidency.

“This requires compromise,” said LaHood. “This requires Republicans stepping forward with some ideas about how to keep essential services of government running at the level that people have been accustomed to. This is not rocket science. This is people coming together the way that other Congresses have done to solve big issues.”

“I suggest that my former colleagues on the Republican side go see the movie “Lincoln,” because in the movie “Lincoln,” it shows how hard it was back then to get things done,” LaHood said. “But what Lincoln did is he gathered people around him the way that I believe President Obama is doing by calling Republicans, talking to them, trying to work with them. And when that happens, big things get solved. The fiscal cliff got solved because people started talking to one another. So this can happen again.”

The White House today again called for compromise.

oil drilling

Marathon Oil pumpjack in the Oklahoma Resource Basin, November 2012 (Photo by Marathon Oil)

Senior Advisor to the President Dan Pfeiffer said, “The President still believes we should deal with the deficit in the long term with a package of measures balanced between revenue and cuts. We’re not asking for my way or the highway.”

Pfeiffer says President Obama has offered “about 200 pages of specifics” on how to cut spending and raise revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy.

One measure the President would like to see enacted is removing tax benefits for oil and gas companies. Republican President Ronald Reagen was against these subsidies, and President Obama would like to see them lifted, Pfeiffer said.

The White House statement says progress on deficit reduction has been made and but more is needed.

“Already, the President has worked with Congress to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion, but there’s more to do. The President has put forward a balanced plan to not only avoid the harmful effects of the sequester but also to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion in total. The President’s plan meets Republicans more than halfway and includes twice as many spending cuts as it does tax revenue from the wealthy.”

If the sequester takes effect March 1, some states will lose more than others. Here are a few of the budget cuts by state:

New York would lose about $12.9 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. New York could lose another $1,201,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

In addition, New York will lose $1,070,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events.

Florida would lose about $5.2 million in environmental funding for clean water and air quality, and pollution prevention. Florida could lose another $1.1 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection and another $1.8 million in public health threat upgrade funds.

Texas would lose about $8.46 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. In addition, Texas could lose another $2.23 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection and another $2.4 million in public health threat upgrade funds.

California would lose about $12.4 million in environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. California could lose another $1.9 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection and another $2.6 million in public health threat upgrade funds.

Smaller states will lose smaller amounts but every million hurts.

Massachusetts would lose about $4 million in environmental funding and another $472,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection. Massachusetts would also lose $625,000 in public health threat upgrade funds.

Louisiana would lose about $2.5 million in environmental funding, another $884,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection and another $433,000 in funds that were to to help upgrade its ability to respond to infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events.

Nebraska would lose about $1,294,000 in environmental funding, another $686,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection, and $174,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats including infectious diseases, natural disasters, and biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological events.

Washington would lose about $3,301,000 in environmental funding, another $924,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection and $642,000 in funds to help upgrade its ability to respond to public health threats, a cut especially important in Washington when it comes to radiological events.

Last week six single-shell containment tanks were found to be leaking highly radioactive waste at the Hanford Nuclear Site in south-central Washington.

Washington Governor Joy Inslee worries that the sequester will mean workers at Hanford will be furloughed, slowing or halting work to deal with the leaking tanks.

“With potential sequestration and federal budget cuts looming, we need to be sure the federal government maintains its commitment and legal obligation to the cleanup of Hanford,” said the governor on Friday. “To see Hanford workers furloughed at the exact moment we have additional leakers out there is completely unacceptable.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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