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Sequester Threatens Superfund, Air Pollution, Oil Spill Oversight

Superfund enforcement, air pollution monitoring and oversight of oil spills are all under threat from the severe budget cuts known as the sequester, which is scheduled to take effect in just over a week if the federal government does not act to avoid it.

The sequester was signed into law in 2011 as part of a raft of measures that ended that year’s crisis surrounding whether or not to raise the country’s debt ceiling. According to multiple news sources, the President and congressional republicans have thus far made little progress towards an agreement to head off the $85 billion in budget cuts that would automatically come into effect on March 1.

Budget cuts would affect all departments of government. According to a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee obtained by the Associated Press, the EPA is expecting to have to close air monitoring stations and do fewer inspections of facilities with the potential for an oil spill. The air quality forecasting system that determines whether or not school children should be allowed outside on high pollution days could also be eliminated, The Washington Post reports.

The New York Times reports that around $100 million would be cut from Superfund enforcement, potentially allowing companies to bypass their responsibilities for cleaning up environmental disasters. More than 100 water-quality projects are also under threat, according to the paper.

A report published in late January by FederalTimes.com said that a union representing EPA workers was concerned about the lack of information the agency had given to employees about the impending cuts and how they would affect staff. John O’Grady, who heads an American Federation of Government Employees local that represents some Chicago-area EPA workers, told the news service that a request for a rundown of what contractor-performed functions could be transferred to federal employees was denied by the EPA because, the agency said, it was “overly broad” and “unduly burdensome.”

O’Grady described the EPA’s conduct as “maddening.”

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