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Unless Congress takes immediate action, the dreaded sequester will take effect on Friday and automatic spending cuts, amounting to $85 billion, will take effect. In addition to slashing budgets for everything from educational programs to unemployment benefits, the sequester will also gut environmental spending, setting back the minimal progress that has been made on issues like fracking regulation, alternative energy, and conservation.
On Sunday the White House released a breakdown of how the sequester will impact each state, and the results showed huge cuts to clean air and water protection with New York and California taking the biggest hits at $12.4 million and $12.9 million, respectively. Read on for a look at the six ways these cuts would hurt (or in the last case possibly help) the environment:
1. National Parks: Get ready for delays in parks’ seasonal openings, shrinking services, and likely dirtier restrooms. If the sequester takes effect on March 1st, the National Parks Service (NPS) stands to lose $110 million. Some immediate impacts include a three week delay in the spring opening of Yellowstone, closures of some national visitors centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a $1.6 million cut to the National Mall’s budget before next month’s popular Cherry Blossom Festival. Beyond the inconvenience to visitors, the economic impact of these cutbacks is significant as well. A report from the NPS estimated that in 2011, visitors to the national parks generated $30.1 billion in economic activity and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar estimated the local economy would lose $1 million per day in revenue from postponing the opening of Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks.
In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Salazar warned there would be 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. Additionally, more than one fifth of all refuges would face complete closure or program elimination.
2. Clean energy development: This is one area where President Obama regularly receives high praise from environmental groups, but the meager progress that has been made will take a huge hit. “The funding reductions will be particularly devastating at a time when we are really looking to scale up this industry,” said League of Conservation Voter’s Deputy Legislative Director Alex Taurel.
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