Sequestration’s Side Effects

By Davis Wax

As the indiscriminate budget cuts known as the sequester cause fissures throughout the federal government, programs that protect public health and the environment are feeling the crunch.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget is being cut from $8.4 billion to $7.7 billion with particularly harmful effects to its clean water program, which will lose $2 million or around eight percent of its budget. The agency will conduct an estimated 1,000 fewer inspections during the remaining months of fiscal year 2013. Various EPA air-monitoring sites will likely be forced to shut down, making it near impossible for the agency to judge if the Clean Air Act is being violated in certain areas of the country.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which oversees surface mining projects including mountaintop removal coal mining, will lose ten percent of its budget, allowing 50 abandoned mine lands projects to go unreclaimed. Around 22,500 citizens will remain exposed to the health risks that may result from open mine shafts and portals, mine fires, dangerous highwalls, landslides, and mine subsidence. Cuts to OSM will also result in a loss of $13 million in the health funds of the United Mine Workers of America, which help support retired coal miners and their families.

Conversely, due to the blanket budget cuts, the oil, natural gas and coal industries will be forced to slow down development on federal lands and waters. Lack of funding will lead to furloughs and personnel reductions resulting in delays on federal leases, development plans and permitting, coupled with fewer safety inspections that will lead to less revenue collected by the federal government.

Cuts to clean air and water protections that help regulate pollution, hazardous waste, and the use of pesticides:

• Kentucky: $2.1 million
• North Carolina: $3.6 million
• Tennessee: $2.2 million
• Virginia: $2.9 million
• West Virginia: $2 million

Cuts to public health protections that address disease, natural disasters and other hazards:

• Kentucky: $414,000
• North Carolina: $911,000
• Tennessee: $606,000
• Virginia: $764,000
• West Virginia: $177,000

Source: Office of Management and Budget report to the Congress on the sequestration for fiscal year 2013

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