8 Ways the Sequester Will Hurt Coastal Conservation (and 1 Way It Won’t)
I mean, really. We all know that Congress is completely dysfunctional, but their dysfunction will become all too tangible on Friday when the dreaded “sequester” takes effect. Although most Americans will wake up and not notice a thing — people’s lives are much better organized than Congressional budgeting — the impacts of bad governance will be felt in coastal conservation programs. According to NOAA estimates, for example, some 2600 employees would be furloughed, some 2700 positions would go unfilled, and some 1400 contractor jobs would be lost. These cuts will have real impacts. Here is just some of the insanity:
1. NOAA environmental and weather satellite delays. NOAA is working to launch two new satellites in 2015 and 2017. According to NOAA, the sequester would cut budgets for the satellite programs which would lead, essentially, to delays. With gaps in coverage already a concern with the Government Accountability Office, further delay would increase the risk of compromised weather forecasts and warnings.
2. Cuts to NOAA will likely force reductions in funding for fishery management. At risk would be fishery assessments, regional fishery management councils, and at-sea observers who monitor catch on fishing boats. In tightly controlled fisheries, fishermen depend on up-to-date assessments to determine the size of the allowed catch, for example. If the information is not available, or substantially delayed, either the fisherman or the fishery is likely to suffer from bad decision-making.
3. The Army Corp of Engineers will also face damaging cuts. According to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, the Corps will have to reduce funding in flood protection and will have to reduce funding in ecosystem restoration.
4. Basic scientific research will be cut. According to a National Science Foundation memo (pdf), “At NSF, the major impact of sequestration will be seen in reductions to the number of new research grants and cooperative agreements awarded in FY 2013. We anticipate that the total number of new research grants will be reduced by approximately 1,000.”
5. According to an EPA memo (pdf), EPA’s Water infrastructure projects will be cut or delayed. Federal grant programs fund a great number of state and local projects aimed at water quality and drinking water protection. Water quality implementation grants, and state revolving funds will be hit by the sequester, so many grants are likely to be delayed or eliminated. As a result, many localities will be without the means to solve critical water quality problems.
6. Also according to the EPA memo, sequestration will impact EPA’s post-Sandy efforts to enhance resiliency and work on the flood damage risk and vulnerability of coastal water treatment facilities.
7. Environmental administration, inspection and enforcement efforts slow to a crawl. With furloughed federal employees, environmental inspections and enforcement will be reduced. Permits will take longer to issue. Environmental impact studies will take longer to complete and longer to review.
8. Access to National Parks and wildlife refuges will be reduced. Reduced funding will mean reduced staffing, which means later seasonal openings for some parks and refuges, fewer interpretive programs. According to a Department of Interior memo, visitors should prepare for a reduction in hours of operation for visitor centers, shortened seasons, and possible closure of camping, hiking, and other recreational areas due to insufficient staff. The sequester is expected to cause complete closure or program elimination at 128 wildlife refuges — about 20% of the entire system.
The one way the sequester will NOT hurt coasts?
1. The Department of Interior says that efforts to review and permit offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska will be slowed, affecting, for example, some 550 exploration plans in the Gulf. So there’s that.
And these are just some of the impacts. Unfortunately across-the-board cuts will cut across the board. Stuff the government does — good or bad — will be delayed, made smaller, or eliminated entirely. Coastal conservation programs are only a tiny part of the nation’s environmental budget, which is in turn a tiny part of the huge and problematic national budget. But these programs are important to coastal communities, to coastal economies, and to the coastal environment. It’s really too bad the dysfunction has come to this.