The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to furlough all of its employees and shut down for three days this year to absorb sequestration’s spending cuts. But the sequester cuts do not have to lead to shutdowns.

The Heritage Foundation recently pointed out that prioritized cuts at the National Institutes of Health and Transportation Security Administration would target blatantly wasteful spending and unnecessary and duplicative programs. The same is true for the EPA.

Heritage has highlighted the EPA’s track record of wasting taxpayer dollars on projects ranging from the ineffective to the absurd in its Federal Spending by the Numbers 2012 report. For example, the EPA:

  • Awarded a $141,450 grant under the Clean Air Act to fund a Chinese study on pig manure;
  • Funded a $67,926 poster contest at just one college, Syracuse University, that yielded fewer than 10 entries; and
  • Gave $1.2 million to the United Nations for the “promotion” of so-called clean fuels.

If only the waste ended there. In 2012 the EPA spent nearly $3.7 million on 20 conferences with price tags above $100,000—an average of $182,847 per conference. Further, a recent Inspector General report revealed that the EPA has 430,000 square feet of underutilized space, which costs taxpayers more than $20 million annually.

Such examples are low-hanging fruit, but more costly agency initiatives could be eliminated, too. For example, the EPA awarded $1.5 billion in federal grants for cellulosic ethanol producers (fuel made out of wood chips and grass clippings) and issued a production mandate of 500 million gallons of this fuel by 2012.

Demand for ethanol is contrived; it exists only because Congress and the President have mandated its use. And because government created the demand—not the market—taxpayers must subsidize its production. Such subsidies waste taxpayer money and distort market activity.

Heritage experts Jack Spencer, Nicolas Loris, and Katie Tubb argue instead for freedom-based reforms, writing that Congress should:

  • Prohibit the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, saving families who rely on the 82 percent of the energy used in the United States that produce greenhouse gases;
  • Stop the EPA’s regulatory overreach, which is artificially driving the cost of energy higher, harming job creation, and providing little to no environmental benefit; and
  • Repeal the EPA’s energy efficiency initiatives, which drive up gas prices and restrict consumer choice.

Such reforms would save taxpayers money by reducing the scope of the EPA’s ever-expanding mission, and they would also serve the needs of the economy by lightening the heavy regulatory burden on America’s businesses.

In the meantime, given the tremendous harm that the EPA’s overreaching agenda has on job creation and the economy, if its plans to furlough employees for a few days come to pass, the entire country just might actually be better off.