Federal budget sequestration's impacts on energy industry, consumers

Friday, March 1, 2013

Unless Congress enacts a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit today, a procedure known as "sequestration" will take effect immediately, cutting government spending until the budget can be resolved.  What will sequestration mean for the energy industry and consumers?

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), sequestration automatically kicks in unless the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction proposes a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, and Congress subsequently enacts that plan.  For fiscal year 2013, sequestration could mean spending cuts of $85 billion over the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.  According to the federal Office of Management and Budget, nondefense program spending will be cut by about 9%.

Each federal agency's operations will be affected by the sequestration.  The OMB Report Pursuant to the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (394-page PDF) details likely cuts, including reductions in funding available under the U.S. Department of Energy's High Energy Cost Grants program.  The High Energy Costs Grant program provides funding for improving and providing energy generation, transmission and distribution facilities serving communities with average home energy costs exceeding 275% of the national average.  For example, the Maine island of Monhegan's electric utility won a $420,154 grant under this program to replace the island's current switchgear, add a smaller, 40 kW generator to the power station's fleet, and add a 13 kW solar photovoltaic array to the power station's roof.

The sequestration could also slash funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)REAP provides assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to complete energy projects, including renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy development, energy audits, and feasibility studies

Other programs affected include the DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, from which $148 million could be cut.  Likewise, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps keep families safe and healthy through initiatives that assist families with energy costs, faces $285 million in cuts.

The funding reductions will also mean cuts to DOE's energy-efficiency and cybersecurity programs.  Likewise, the processing of applications for development of oil, gas, and coal on federal lands and waters would slow down as agency employees are furloughed.  

Will Congress act to avert sequestration?  If it takes effect, how long will it be until Congress enacts a compliant deficit reduction plan?  What price will society pay?

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