Sequester Dirties the Air

The sequester is here. As I outlined in a previous article exactly what we had to look forward to, indiscriminate cuts are being unleashed upon the public straight across the board, delivered with a hatchet as opposed to a scalpel.

I reached out to Sen. Tom Carper, who serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, for a comment on the current situation. He responded by e-mail stating:

“Programs in every corner of the federal government are taking a hit because of sequestration. Because the President and those of us in Congress failed to compromise in addressing our deep fiscal challenges, we’ve enacted indiscriminate cuts without asking whether they’ll hurt our economy or undermine the basic responsibilities of government, including preserving our environment and protecting public health. Unfortunately, these cuts weren’t conceived thoughtfully and weren’t targeted toward inefficient or wasteful programs. Thus, they could slow our momentum in valuable programs aimed at cleaning up our dirty air, which contributes to pulmonary disease in countless Americans, young and old, each year. Going forward, I’ll continue to call for a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that is balanced, fair and thoughtful.”

The average American may not be aware of how these cuts will impact the air that they breathe. Perhaps, most surprising to them, would be how the affected programs that reduce air pollution will shape the state of national health for everyone. Those at greatest harm are the vulnerable elderly, young children, and those with cardiac and respiratory diseases.

Here are some of the top concerns that were laid out by the Environment Protection Agency in a February letter from Lisa Jackson to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Chairwoman for the Committee on Appropriations.

State Air Monitors:

Sequestration cuts reduce EPA funding allocated to individual states to monitor air quality. Critical air monitoring sites may be shuttered. As a result, there will be no monitoring of certain pollutants such as fine particle (soot) and ozone. Without this data, it is impossible to ascertain whether a specific locale is in compliance with Clean Air Act (CAA) standards.

An example of a system in danger of losing funding is AIRNow, an index for reporting daily air quality. These advisories are essential for those who need to judge the advisability of going outdoors.


Vehicle Certification:

Cuts will impact the EPA’s ability to evaluate and certify that new cars are in compliance with emission standards. The trickle down effect is that it stalls automobile purchases, and therefore, the economy.

Energy Star Program:

Most Americans are familiar with the Energy Star tag on new appliances. The facts listed give companies tools to set goals, and consumers disclosure and details on energy usage and emissions. In 2011, because of these insights, American utility bills were lowered by $23 billion. The reduced emissions in 2011 were equivalent to that of 41 million vehicles.

Superfund Enforcement:

This is a system for monitoring accountability of those responsible for the costly “cleanups” at pollution sites. It ensures that those at fault are footing the bill. An EPA failure to follow through on keeping offenders accountable is estimated to amount to a loss of $100 million in fee revenues to the government. For example, announced in December 2012, was the Owens-Brockway Glass Container settlement. The largest glass container manufacturer in the country agreed to “install pollution control equipment to reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter by nearly 2,500 tons per year.” Their fine will be a $1.45 million penalty to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at five of the company’s manufacturing plants.

In addition, 1,000 EPA inspectors could be cut from the rolls in 2013. The EPA’s ability to be aware of toxic air emissions putting Americans at risk would be diminished. There will be fewer environmental reviews, accompanied by a slowdown of the approval of energy and transportation projects. There will be less fracking oversight. Major polluters will benefit from a reduction in scrutiny, which will lead to oil refineries and power plants going unchecked. Meanwhile, Big Oil will retain their firm grasp on taxpayer subsidies.

We can only hope other representatives in the House and Senate will come to the aid of this country’s children and step up the importance of the air we breathe before it’s too late.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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