Sequester has consequences for the environment, too

Wildlife refuges, FEMA could suffer from budget cuts

Environment could suffer from sequester
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Environment could suffer from sequester

As the United States Congress nears its deadline for cutting spending, the country faces a sequester, or 85 billion dollars in across-the-board spending cuts that would take effect this year. The public debate over the impacts of the sequester have focused on defense and education cuts, but funding for environmental programs is also at risk. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

The effects of the so-called sequester aren’t clear right now. If Congress doesn’t agree on spending cuts or revenue increases by Friday, cuts of $1.2 trillion to the federal budget over the next 10 years would begin, starting with $85 billion this year. Those will certainly affect a range of environmental programs here in Connecticut. Although no one knows by how much.  

“The message that I’ve been hearing is that people are concerned," says Rebecca Kaplan of the Connecticut Find for the Environment. “And we’re concerned about how it’s going to impact our local environment. But because of the lack of specific numbers it’s hard for us to really get a good grasp on what’s going to happen.”

While numbers aren’t available, Kaplan says the cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association could mean less funding for things like weather satellites and coastal management programs. So, we’d have less money to track future storms and protect our shorelines against them. Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy could mean less money for upgrading and protecting our sewer treatment plants or for promoting clean energy and energy efficiency programs. And, Kaplan says, money for wildlife programs could be slashed by as much as 20 percent.

“That would be massive. That would mean closes of refuges, it would mean lost opportunities for hunting and fishing, loss of revenue for local economies that depend on the tourism that comes to these refuges," she says.

In Connecticut, the Stuart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge already needs more funding. It suffered millions of dollars of damage after Superstorm Sandy and Congress stripped $10 million out of the federal relief bill that would have helped restore it. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, would also face cuts as part of the sequester that could limit funding for those affected by natural disasters.