Sequestration Cuts $154M in State Environment Funding, White House Says

Photographer: Ken Wardius

Discharge pipes into the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. The White House estimates sequestration would "severely undermine" state environmental protections. Close

Discharge pipes into the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. The White House estimates... Read More

Photographer: Ken Wardius

Discharge pipes into the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. The White House estimates sequestration would "severely undermine" state environmental protections.

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.

The council, in a Feb. 25 email, said the spending cuts would “severely undermine” efforts to ensure that air and water are clean. 

Environmental funding for New York would be reduced by $12.87 million in fiscal year 2013 under the automatic cuts, the largest cut for any state. California would lose $12.4 million in federal funding for environmental programs, while Texas would get $8.47 million less.

The email also outlines an estimated $46.2 million in anticipated cuts to federal fish and wildlife protection grants. The council's email includes links to sequestration fact sheets prepared by the White House for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The email was sent out one day after the White House released a report estimating that all federal agencies will be required to make an approximate 9 percent cut to nondefense discretionary spending as a result of the automatic cuts, which would be implemented in a process known as budget sequestration

The email does not specify the source of the $154 million in cuts, only referring to the anticipated loss of “environmental funding to ensure clean water and air quality, as well as prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste.”

An EPA spokeswoman told BNA Feb. 26 that the agency could not share any additional information on the source of the cuts. The agency did recently send a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee stating that the automatic spending cuts would limit state environmental agencies' ability to administer clean water and drinking water programs, including reductions in funding for state programs that protect children from lead exposure in drinking water and protect rivers and streams from discharges of pollutants (32 DER A-34, 2/15/13).

States Anticipate Cuts to Air, Water Grants

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told BNA Feb. 26 that he presumes the White House estimates include anticipated cuts to state grant programs, including grants issued under Section 105 of the Clean Air Act.

State and local agencies receive approximately $220 million in annual funding under the Clean Air Act, according to Becker. An 8.2 percent cut in that funding, as called for under the Budget Control Act, would result in a cut of approximately $18 million for state clean air programs over a full fiscal year.

Dan Hartnett, director of legislative affairs at the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, said the state-by-state estimates could include expected cuts to the state drinking water and clean water revolving funds, which the White House Office of Management and Budget said in September 2012 would be cut approximately $196 million in fiscal 2013 under sequestration. Hartnett noted that the $196 million figure does not reflect the fiscal cliff deal reached by Congress that delayed the sequester from Jan. 2 until March 1.

That legislation avoided $24 billion in automatic spending cuts, replacing those cuts with $12 billion in new revenue and $12 billion in reduced spending authority divided between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2014.

Hartnett said he would expect the state revolving funds, which provide funding for state and local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure programs, to receive a smaller cut in fiscal 2013 if sequestration is enacted because the cuts would be prorated to reflect the fiscal cliff deal.

EPA plans to issue sequestration guidance to employees and managers within the next few days.

EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe, in a Feb. 26 email to agency employees obtained by BNA, said furloughs would be necessary to comply with a sequestration order.

Perciasepe said the arbitrary nature of automatic spending cuts would “force” the agency to implement employee furloughs over the remainder of fiscal 2013. He cautioned employees that there is “a very strong possibility” that Congress will not act before March 1 to delay or cancel the scheduled automatic cuts.

EPA will give employees 30 days notice before any furlough process takes effect, according to Perciasepe.

“We are working to minimize the burden on employees and their families while still enabling the agency to meet its obligations and fulfill its mission,” he said.

Perciasepe said the agency has taken “aggressive action” to control costs, including reducing spending on contracts, grants, and administrative costs.

EPA officials are meeting with representatives from the unions representing agency employees to prepare for sequestration, according to Perciasepe.

Perciasepe also advised employees to review the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's furlough document, which he said should answer questions on how a furlough would affect employees. He also stated that EPA plans to issue sequestration guidance to employees and managers “within the next few days” and post information on an internal website that will address more EPA-specific issues than the OPM document.

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