Energy & Environmental Policy

Oh, Those Onerous Environmental Programs


In this, the age of budget deficits, no political party wants to be caught being the one without any budget cuts to advocate. President Obama handed down a budget that promised to cut troubled programs or programs that had not been able to deliver results, to achieve what one administration official told the Associated Press would amount to “$1.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.”

The Republican-controlled House and its Appropriations Committee unsurprisingly had just a few additions to the budget cuts, and the resulting budget has stalled in the Senate. reported on February 22 that Democrats are unwilling to accept the cuts on the grounds that they “will harm the economy and the nation’s security.” Republicans have an important bargaining chip: The debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion will need to be raised soon, according to the Treasury Department, and Republicans will not raise it unless cuts are passed.

An impasse, to be sure.

What’s wrong with the Republican budget cuts? Among the controversial spending cuts lies an environmental time bomb: deep cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, targeting programs dealing with everything from air pollution to energy efficiency. The president’s budget also included cuts for the EPA, but largely focused on decreasing spending for water programs, leaving pollution and efficiency programs intact.

The Appropriations Committee February 14 press release on the House passage of their proposed budget described greenhouse gas regulations as “onerous,” “harmful,” and something that will “hurt the nation’s economy and inhibit the ability of American businesses to create jobs.” These “onerous” regulations were slashed left and right, decreasing spending far beyond anything proposed by the president’s 2011 request. The greenhouse gas reporting registry, which collects data on industrial emissions, received a cut of $9.1 million. Cap and trade technical assistance was cut by $5 million. Diesel emissions grants were cut by $10 million. Federal, state and local support for air quality management were cut by a total of $29.9 million. Funding to certify and enforce standards for pollution from large federal transportation were cut by $6.1 million.

The cuts go beyond just greenhouse gas, however, to target every aspect of our nation’s climate change and environmental programs.  The Appropriations Committee cut funding to climate change monitoring, research and data collection, with cuts affecting the National Parks Service, the United States Geological Survey, the United States Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA. The Energy Star program was cut by $12.4 million. Carbon sequestration programs from multiple agencies had their budgets cut. President Obama cut some funding to the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the largest fund for water quality, but the committee cut an additional $1.31 billion from its budget, along with $457 million additional cuts for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

This appears to be just the beginning: Newt Gingrich recently proposed abolishing the EPA altogether. Only about 25% of voters support this idea, according to a USA Today poll. However unpopular, this and the budget proposal signal a trend among Republican policymakers to pull as much support as possible from environmental programs and programs for climate change.

The United States is already one of the worst offenders in terms of emissions, second only to China. Why allow our government to pull back our very limited response to our polluting ways?

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