Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions

Sequestration’s Impact on the Environment

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As you’ve no doubt heard, Congress has missed its deadline to prevent the automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration”.  This imposes $85 billion in across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts to the federal budget.  So what does this mean for the federal programs that protect our environment and public health?  The actual on the ground implications to our land, air, and water may take time to evaluate, but it is clear that essential programs will face harsh cuts.  As the sequester deal stands, it is estimated that this year alone, New York and Connecticut will lose $12.8 million and nearly $2 million, respectively, for programs that protect clean air and water, and prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.  New York and Connecticut will also lose $1.2 million and $400,000, respectively, for grants that protect fish and wildlife.

With all the talk of millions and billions and trillions of dollars these days, it may be hard to put the aforementioned dollar amounts into perspective.  In practice, these cuts will mean less air monitoring and enforcement, which will allow polluters to get away with breaking environmental laws and emit dangerous pollutants; less work to upgrade our failing wastewater infrastructure, resulting in more untreated sewage contaminating our lakes, rivers, bays, and estuaries; shortened seasons at national parks; reduced ability to clean up after severe weather events; and even the prolonged closure of the Statue of Liberty.  There will also be cuts that will have direct impacts NY and CT, such as programs to protect and restore the Great Lakes, Long Island Sound, and Hudson River.

Any thought that cutting these programs now will save our nation money is short-sighted and completely misguided.  The fact is that cutting these programs will not save one penny; it will actually cost us much more over the long term.  Take the Great Lakes for example.   The lakes are plagued with problems ranging from sewage contamination to invasive species to toxic hot spots.  Because the lakes supply 40 million people with drinking water and support billion dollar industries, everyone agrees that these problems must be addressed.  Cutting the programs that are addressing these problems will only make the problems worse, and the solutions more difficult and much more expensive.   This is akin to kicking the (very expensive ) can down the road.

So where do we stand today?  Congress must agree on a budget by March 27 to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.  Any agreement will likely include the full cuts included in the sequester.  Cuts to spending are a reality, and no one should be in denial about that.  What we should not accept, this year or any year moving forward, is the across-the-board approach to cuts included in the sequester.  These cuts are non-targeted, disproportionate, and thoughtless.   We deserve better from Congress.

We have all felt the pinch of America’s economic downturn in recent years.  Families have been forced to make difficult decisions about where to spend limited resources, but we have done it in a thoughtful way.  For example, I decided against taking the kids to Disney this year, elected to live with 100 TV channels instead of 1,000, and cut back on dining out.  The decision to cut those luxury items was not easy, but it was the right decision.  I did not make across-the-board cuts to all my household expenses, including my water bill, heat, and mortgage.  I might have saved a few bucks in the short term, but I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining why that would be a bad idea.  If American families can make smart, thoughtful decisions on where to cut back, so can Congress.  They must not act under the guise of fiscal responsibility to avoid making difficult decisions.  Clean air and clean water are not a luxury items, and must not be sacrificed in the federal budget.

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This entry was posted in Legislative, Open Space and Wildlife, Public Health and Toxics, Water Protection and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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