EPA Considering Mandatory Furlough Days For Employees if Sequestration Implemented

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The Environmental Protection Agency is considering an “agency shutdown” for three days between April 21 and Sept. 30 if the agency is hit with automatic discretionary spending cuts, a union official told BNA Feb. 21.

The agency, during “pre-decisional involvement talks” with officials from the five unions that represent agency employees, described a scenario under agency consideration in which every EPA employee also would be required to take 32 hours of unpaid leave between April 21 and June 15. This would include a mandatory furlough day for the entire agency on May 24.

John O'Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 and treasurer of AFGE Council 238, told BNA Feb. 21 that the mandatory furlough day would result in an effective “agency shutdown.”

He said EPA did not state how many furlough days would be required of employees from July 1 until the end of the fiscal year, but said the agency is planning two additional mandatory furlough days on July 5 and Aug. 30.

All federal agencies are scheduled to receive an automatic 8.2 percent cut to nondefense discretionary spending on March 1, to be implemented in a process known as budget sequestration. The cuts, which are required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub. L. No. 112-25), would total approximately $85 billion in fiscal year 2013 unless Congress reaches a deal to stop the cuts from taking effect.

Clean Water, Air Monitoring Programs

In a letter, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the spending cuts would limit states' ability to administer clean water and drinking water programs, force the shutdown of critical air monitoring sites, and slow the agency's process for ensuring that new motor vehicles meet emissions standards.

The letter, sent Feb. 6 to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), also estimates that the automatic 8.2 percent cut to nondefense discretionary spending would reduce the agency's ability to monitor compliance with environmental laws, with an estimated 1,000 fewer federal inspections to be conducted in fiscal year 2013 if the cuts take effect.

A reduction in funding for inspections would “reduce EPA's capacity to identify toxic air emissions, water discharges, and other sources of pollution” that affect human health and the environment, Perciasepe said.

The automatic discretionary spending cuts, which are required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub. L. No. 112-25), would total approximately $85 billion in fiscal year 2013 unless Congress reaches a deal to stop the cuts from taking effect.

The cuts also would limit the agency's ability to provide cleanup, job training, and technical assistance to brownfield communities and eliminate funding for between three and five new construction projects under the superfund remedial program, according to the letter.

The EPA letter also outlines how the cuts, which would be implemented under a process known as budget sequestration, would affect the agency's Energy Star program (see related story).

Hearing Looked at Effect on Agencies

The Senate Appropriations Committee released the letter on the same day it held a hearing to examine the effects of sequestration on various federal departments, including the Defense, Education, and Homeland Security departments.

The committee also released a letter from the Interior Department detailing the effects of the sequester on that department's operations, including an anticipated slowdown in the approval of oil and natural gas development permits (see related story).

Perciasepe in the letter said sequestration would limit states' ability to meet drinking water public health standards and reduce the presence of pollutants in drinking water, including nitrogen and phosphorus.

The letter estimates that more than 100 water quality protection and restoration programs, including programs that protect the public from cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, would be eliminated.

The automatic cuts also would reduce federal assistance to states and tribes for clean water programs, including programs that protect children from lead exposure in drinking water, protect rivers and streams from pollution discharges, and identify cleanup plans for polluted bodies of water.

An association representing state environmental agencies told BNA in January, when Congress passed legislation delaying the sequester from Jan. 2 until March 1, that states are already preparing a list of projects that will need to be cut from their annual work plan if federal clean water and drinking water grants are significantly cut (44 ER 42, 1/4/13).

Perciasepe said automatic cuts to clean water and drinking water state revolving funds would “deprive communities of access to funding to build or repair decaying water and wastewater infrastructure.”

The sequester also would cut funding for research on cleaner and cheaper solutions to the nation's “crumbling water infrastructure,” according to the letter.

Shutdown of Air Monitoring Sites Likely

Perciasepe said the automatic budget cuts also would reduce federal funding for state air monitoring programs, which would probably result in the shutdown of “critical” monitoring sites.

Reduced monitoring for high-priority pollutants, including ozone and fine particles, would hamper the agency's ability to determine whether areas of the country meet health standards under the Clean Air Act, he said.

Sequestration also would require EPA to significantly reduce investment in “essential” air quality data programs, such as AIRNow, and delay scheduled upgrades to the Emission Inventory and Air Quality Systems, according to the letter.

Those systems store and process air quality and emissions data from across the nation, informing regulatory decisions intended to improve air quality.

“Without this monitoring data, future improvements in air quality would be hampered or delayed,” Perciasepe said.

Vehicle Certification, E-Manifest Delays

EPA also anticipates that budget cuts would harm the agency's ability to assess whether automobile manufacturers are complying with vehicle emissions standards.

The agency is required to certify that all new vehicles are in compliance with emissions standards before the vehicles can be sold in the United States.

Sequestration would create the risk that certification of some new vehicles would be delayed, which the agency said could potentially harm vehicle sales and the economy because manufacturers would be unable to sell the latest vehicles in the United States.

Perciasepe also predicted that sequestration would delay work on an ongoing project to develop an electronic-manifest system for managing hazardous waste transport.

EPA estimates that the system will produce up to $126 million in annual savings for industry and states.

Other Anticipated Program Cuts

The letter also details anticipated effects of sequestration on various other agency programs, including:

• a cut of $2.5 million to categorical grants issued to states and tribes to address the assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment of brownfield sites, reducing the ability to fund new grantees and decreasing the number of properties that could be overseen by voluntary cleanup programs by approximately 600;

• cuts to leaking underground storage tank state grants, resulting in nearly 290 fewer cleanups at contaminated sites and approximately 2,600 fewer inspections conducted by state agencies;

• reduced support for environmental reviews conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act, which Perciasepe said could “slow the approval of transportation and energy related projects”;

• cuts to the agency's chemical safety program, including reduced ability to research the effect of nanomaterials on human health and reduced funding for research into endocrine disruptors;

• a “significant delay” of Integrated Risk Information System human health assessments on arsenic, styrene, ethylbenzene, napthalene, and manganese; and

• discontinued funding for two joint EPA/National Institutes of Health Center for Excellence for Children's Health Research, which conducts research on how the environment affects various child health issues, including diabetes, asthma, and neurological development.


By Patrick Ambrosio  

EPA's letter to Sen. Mikulski is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=fwhe-94wsd3.

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