Sequester Complaints Focus on Small Cuts But Ignore Millions in Wasted Environmental Funding
There has been a great deal of talk about the severe impacts of the federal budget cuts associated with the so-called "sequester." The Obama Administration claims if the sequester takes effect it risks "$3.3 million to help ensure clean water and air, and to prevent pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste." Cuts could include projects such as:
- Delay federally required work to bring areas that don't meet federal air quality standards into compliance.
- Significantly cut back on implementation of the "clean cars" program...
- Won't be able to identify, assess and respond to toxic hotspots; won't be able to develop response to and reduce risks from toxics like benzene, chromium and formaldehyde.
Actually, those projects aren't at risk from the sequester. They were already cut by the Gregoire Administration when the previous governor shifted $1.6 million away from these and other programs to her "Climate Executive Order." Rather than being used to improve environmental quality, the funds were switched to fund staffwork on the former governor's political priority.
It is worth noting that Washington state continues to lag behind other states in cutting carbon emissions and that many of the policies proposed in the executive order were never implemented and the impact on carbon emissions was virtually zero. Despite that, little was made of the impact of these cuts at the time and Gregoire was actually praised by the environmental community for shifting the funds.
Additionally, the Obama Administration claims that "Washington could lose $924,000 in grants for fish and wildlife protection." So, what programs would go unfunded when the sequester kicks in? The answer is: nobody knows.
For five years the Puget Sound Partnership's responsibility has been to create a prioritized list of science-based projects to address pollution in the Sound. Unfortunately, that list is still not complete. The legislature's auditing agency, the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC), released an audit last month which noted that "Hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on ongoing programs have not been prioritized, and the Partnership recommends that all effective ongoing programs be maintained, but has not identified which ones are effective."
While some express concern over the loss of about $1 million in grants, hundreds of millions are being spent without science-based prioritization or monitoring to determine if those efforts are effective -- years after such prioritization was supposed to be complete.
There are, undoubtedly, environmental projects that could benefit from the funding that might exist without the sequester. Focusing on that lost funding while ignoring significantly larger amounts of funding that is misallocated and wasted, demonstrates that once again, when it comes to environmental protection in Washington state, politics trumps science.