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Budget Sequester: Environmental Effects Could Include Layoffs And Regulation Shortfalls

03/01/2013 07:52 am ET | Updated Mar 01, 2013

The federal budget sequester took effect on March 1 with a number of likely environmental impacts. With $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade and $85 billion through the end of the fiscal year in September, layoffs and difficulties in enforcing the nation's environmental regulations are expected.

The National Parks Service is slated to lose over $100 million, which, according to Mother Jones, would also cost local economies millions of dollars in economic activity.

Disaster relief funding will also be impacted, explains Mother Nature Network. The White House said that funding for firefighting, along with state and local emergency management positions will be cut.

The budget cuts will also likely affect the Environmental Protection Agency's operations as its works to finalize new power plant emissions rules. Earlier this week, acting administrator of the EPA Bob Perciasepe wrote in an email to staff, according to Reuters, "The arbitrary nature of the required budget cuts of sequestration would force us to implement employee furloughs over the remainder of the fiscal year."

Layoffs are also expected at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington. The state's governor, Jay Inslee, warned earlier in the week that the sequester could impact cleanup operations of the contaminated nuclear site that is currently leaking waste underground. The Yakima Herald previously reported that over 1,000 of the site's 9,000 workers were facing six weeks of unpaid leave if the sequester took effect.

At the Department of Energy, outgoing secretary Steven Chu noted that the sequester would also impact clean energy development. He wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, "Under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the Nation's transition into a clean energy economy, and could weaken efforts to become more energy independent and energy secure, while spturing overall economic growth."

Environmental groups have quickly condemned the cuts and their likely effects. League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski criticized the sequester for "[taking] a hatchet to environmental funding." He said in an emailed statement earlier in the week, "Congress should find a balanced solution that ends Big Oil’s tax breaks instead of risking public health with these severe cuts."

In anticipation of the cuts, Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, blamed the sequester on "GOP obstructionists protecting loopholes for millionaires and subsidies for oil companies," in a statement. He argued, "Republicans in Congress should help curb the deficit by agreeing to end at least $8 billion in annual subsidies to these oil companies."

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