The Impacts of Sequestration Cuts on EPA Programs

Sequestration budget cuts (“budget cuts”) went into effect on March 1, 2013. These budget cuts required EPA to cut approximately $425 million from its $8.3 billion annual budget, or about 5%. In a February 6, 2013 letter, Lisa Jackson, then-Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”), identifies to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) the specific EPA programs to be affected by the budget cuts. The programs where spending must be cut cover a range of environmental issues including air, enforcement and compliance, tribal, research and development, water, and state cleanup and waste programs.

The air programs identified by Ms. Jackson where spending will be cut are the Energy Star program, the vehicle certification program and the state air monitoring program. Ms. Jackson indicates that the budget cuts “would reduce the funding EPA provides states to monitor air quality, likely forcing the shutdown of some critical air monitoring sites.”

The enforcement and compliance programs affected are civil and criminal enforcement of violations of environmental laws, National Environmental Policy Act environmental reviews and Superfund enforcement. Ms. Jackson states “sequestration would cut work to press responsible parties to clean up contaminated sites in communities and restore clean up funds for use at other sites – putting the costs back on the American public.”

Budget cuts to EPA tribal programs will impact tribes by hindering tribal governments’ ability to ensure clean air and water for its members.

EPA research and development programs that will receive reduced funding are air, climate and energy programs, chemical safety for sustainability programs, sustainable and healthy communities, safe and sustainable water resources, human health risk assessment and homeland security research. Ms. Jackson indicates “under sequestration the reduction in funding would impede EPA’s ability to assess and understand the effect of nanomaterials on human health and dispose of rare earth materials used in electronics, thereby limiting Innovation and manufacturing opportunities with these materials in the US. The reduction in funding for endocrine disrupting chemicals research would limit our nation’s ability to determine where and how susceptible people are exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals, and to understand how these toxic exposures impact their health and welfare.”

The EPA water programs affected by the budget cuts are the state revolving fund program, water program state implementation grants, water program implementation and Superstorm Sandy appropriations. Ms. Jackson states, “reductions under sequestration would limit assistance provided to states and tribes to ensure safe and clean water, including protecting children from exposure to lead in drinking water; protecting rivers and streams from industrial and municipal pollution discharges, identifying and developing cleanup plans for polluted waterways, and developing science to support human health and aquatic life.

Lastly, Ms. Jackson lists the EPA state cleanup and waste program cuts which include reduced site assessments and inspections and cuts in leaking underground storage tank grants resulting in fewer contaminated site cleanups.