"sequester ahead" sign
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If the environment could be likened to a punching bag, beaten up by pollution, climate change deniers, and rampant deforestation, then a colossal political impasse that the U.S. is facing this week could be likened to a redwood log connected to a battering ram being swung at Mother Earth’s punched-up face.

Sequestration would help polluters escape probing government eyes. It would slow down renewable energy and energy conservation projects. And it would keep Americans out of national parks.

Before taking you on a whirlwind trip around the internets to see how sequestration would affect the environment, I’ll take a moment to explain the word.

Sequestration refers to a clause in 2011 budget legislation that triggers automatic federal spending cuts unless lawmakers agree on a spending plan by a certain date, which Congress pushed back earlier this year to March 1. The cuts would equal $1.2 trillion over the coming decade, including $85 billion over the next year. There’s no rhyme nor reason to the cuts: They will simply amount to arbitrary, across-the-board reductions in every department’s budget. That means the federal government would spend less money advancing and permitting clean technology projects. It would spend less money maintaining national parks. And it would spend less money incarcerating harmless immigrants.

Got it? Good. Now here is that promised sampling of sequestration reporting from around the internets.

From Bloomberg:

A series of automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin taking effect March 1 would result in an estimated $154 million reduction in federal funding for state environmental programs, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

From Stateline, the news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts:

Air and water could get murkier, environmental officials warn, if forced budget cuts deal a heavy blow to state programs that carry out the bulk of inspections and pollution cleanups across the U.S.

From North American Wind Power, an industry publication:

The progress that offshore wind energy has made thus far in the U.S. could be stymied by cuts made under sequestration, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar said at the Offshore Wind Power USA conference, which is being held in Boston this week.

“We have made impressive gains — approving dozens of utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects in the West, and transitioning from planning to commercial leasing for offshore wind,” Salazar said during his keynote address. “The potentially devastating impact of budget reductions under sequestration could slow our economy and hurt energy sector workers and businesses.”

Sequestration would cut springtime snow plowing in Yellowstone, delaying its opening.
Yellowstone Gate
Sequestration would cut springtime snow plowing in Yellowstone, delaying its opening.

From The Washington Post:

Few corners of the federal government directly touch the public as do the 398 [national] parks, monuments and historic sites, which draw 280 million visits a year. The system would feel the effects immediately of a $110 million slash should budget cuts take effect March 1 — from a three-week delay of Yellowstone’s spring opening to save money on snow plowing, to shuttered campgrounds and visitor centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And 20 days before the cherry blossoms begin blooming on the Mall, $1.6 million would be slashed from the park’s $32 million budget, cutting into law enforcement, tree maintenance, rangers and other services that park employees provide for one of Washington’s biggest tourist attractions.

Christian Science Monitor points out that hundreds fewer onshore oil and gas leases would be issued in Western states under sequestration, before segueing to the bad news:

Sequestration would slow the transition to a clean-energy economy, according to the Department of Energy, and weaken efforts to obtain energy independence. Spending cuts would slow down the Energy Department’s efforts to make solar cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity, the department says. A solar industry job training program targeted at military veterans is also slated to see reduced funding, if the sequester goes through.

Spending cuts could reduce by more than a thousand the number of homes weatherized through DOE funding and could leave 1,200 weatherization professionals out of the job.

A cut to the department’s Vehicle Technologies Program would delay research and development investments or shut down a Manufacturing Demonstration Facility for 6-8 months. That translates to a slowdown in the nation’s production of cleaner and more efficient vehicles, the DOE says.

In other words, unless the people who were elected to govern this country decide to govern this country, and unless they do it fast, polluters win, you lose, and Mother Earth cops yet another blow.