Even as we hail President Obama’s nomination of the very qualified Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we’re barraged by news articles filled with warnings about the immediate and highly damaging effects of the budget sequestration on the environment.
Specifically, the budget cuts implemented last Friday will significantly impact the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the National Parks Service, and also will impair disaster relief funding, renewable energy development projects, and scientific research that could benefit environmental protection programs.
In his letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, outgoing Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined the severity of the sequestration’s impact on the DoE’s role in nuclear weaponry monitoring, environmental clean-up efforts, clean energy technology development and on basic scientific research.
Chu’s statements regarding the funding cuts to clean energy technology projects were particularly forceful: "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 spurring overall economic growth."
This prognosis is counter to the President’s messages in his second Inaugural Address, calling for a serious response to the threat of climate change, and in the speech he delivered later on Inauguration night this past January calling for progress in “…freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”
The EPA will suffer budget cuts resulting in employee layoffs and furloughs that will delay the finalization of rules governing the greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants, and will reduce the number of environmental inspections and environmental regulatory enforcement efforts. And funding cutbacks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will result in elimination of a number of firefighter and state and local emergency management positions, hampering disaster relief efforts.
The National Parks Service will lose over $100 million. This will delay park openings, reduce park entry access and visitor services, and according to Mother Jones, will also eliminate millions of dollars in tourism revenue that would otherwise support local economies.
The environmental impacts of the sequestration cuts will affect state-funded initiatives as well. The Washington Post published a chart of the state-by-state budget cuts due to sequestration in various categories, including clean air and water programs. Most states will experience multi-million dollar reductions in funding for environmentally-focused projects and protection measures.
While Obama’s second Inaugural Address in January assured that “…we will respond to the threat of climate change,” and Vice President Biden urged environmentalists to “Keep the faith” at the Green Ball on the eve of the second Inauguration, the far-reaching and immediately damaging effects of the sequestration cuts do not bode well for the climate activist faithful.
Rhetoric is being trumped by reality at the moment. We environmentalists cannot drop our collective guard or slack off the pressure to ensure that progress to protect our environment and address the damaging effects of Climate Change is made – now and continuing into the future.