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March 21, 2013

The Costs of Sequestration


When Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the midst of the debt-ceiling crisis and crushing gridlock, it was a small compromise, delaying economic catastrophe by kicking the can down the road and stopping the bleeding. The legislation effectively moved major decisions off months into the future by establishing a deadline for Congress to take more significant action. The bill set up a series of dramatically harsh spending cuts in the far-off year of 2013 with the idea that the pain those cuts would inflict on our economy and our families would be too great for Congress to fail to act.

Sadly, it seems Members of Congress underestimated the extent to which gridlock has crippled their own institution.

Congress again stalled, letting these massive spending cuts go into effect on March 1. While the real effect is not expected to be fully felt for several months, the costs on our air, our water, and the health of our planet and our families are already mounting. Just take a look at what sequestration is already doing or will do in the months ahead:

Our National Parks
  • The National Park Service (NPS) has announced early closures and fewer visiting days for many of the its 398 national beloved parks and historic sites across the U.S. Saguaro National Park - Photo by Matt Urban
  • The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park explained that the Sequester will stop 50,000 people from visiting the park this year, because there will be fewer park employees to protect and guide visitors and maintain park grounds, forcing some areas to close.
  • National Park Services has delayed hiring and suspended overtime and training for park employees.  And for many parks opening at the start of the spring season, budget cuts force park snow plows to delay work, keeping some park roads buried in snow and closed for recreation.
  • Some of the largest and most popular sites with similar difficulties in hiring, maintenance and reduced park hours include: National Mall and Memorial Park (Washington, D.C.), Yosemite National Park (California), Gateway National Recreation Area (New York and New Jersey), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona); Everglades National Park (Florida); Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota).

Clean Air and Water

  • Budget cuts will take the people who are charged with keeping toxins out of our air and water off the job, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will be forced to furlough 18,000 of its 18,655 employees, for at least 13 days without pay.
  • States will see big cuts in the funds they receive to protect clean air and water, prevent pollution from pesticides and waste, and protect fish and wildlife.
  • Air quality data systems like AIRNow will either be significantly reduced or eliminated. Many caretakers rely on this critical service to monitor air quality threats to their patients and loved ones with breathing and heart problems.
  • The cuts would hamper the ability of the EPA to make sure vehicle manufacturers comply with emissions standards, meaning car manufacturers might be unable to sell their products if the EPA can’t confirm that the cars meet current standards.

Clean Energy and Efficiency

  • The EPA will not be able to maintain up-to-date product specifications for Energy Star labels, which allow consumers and companies to identify which products are more energy- and cost-efficient. The EPA will also have to reduce the number of industrial sectors it works with to develop energy efficiency guidance. Photo by Lief Erickson
  • Funding for clean energy research and energy efficiency will be targeted for big cuts, forced to operate with nearly $150 million less than before – nearly a tenth of the amount cut from the entire Department of Energy budget.
  • Major funding for training veterans seeking jobs in the solar industry will lose significant funding.
  • Federal investments in American clean energy manufacturing will be cut by nearly 9 percent.


Now, Congress is considering two proposals for our fiscal future. On the Senate side, Washington Democrat Patty Murray has introduced a budget that reverses many of these harmful cuts and invests in clean energy, clean air, and clean water while putting climate cops back on the beat. On the House side, former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan has put together a budget scheme that would only make our climate crisis worse by gutting the EPA’s funding even further, selling off our pristine public lands to oil and gas companies, and doubling down on dirty fuels.

The choice for anyone who cares about the health of our families and the security of our planet should be clear, but we know it’ll be a hard fight. It’s more important than ever that we stand up to ensure the things that protect our future aren’t the first on the chopping block – and that’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass Senator Murray’s budget as is, with no poison pills from big polluters and no devastating cuts to our priorities. You can join that call by demanding your Senator take action now.

--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern 


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