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This article is part of a Special
Section titled “ENVIRONMENT VS. ECONOMICS…REVOLUTION OR RESOLUTION?” that ran
in the March/April 2011 print issue of PA TIMES. Contact Editor
Christine Jewett McCrehin ([email protected]) for more information on
the print issue. See the Related Articles box for links to read more from the Special Section.
Alexandru V. Roman, Schnequa N. Diggs
On February 14, 2011, President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget proposal was unveiled. The proposal attempts to address budgetary challenges that are historic in scope. As stated in the President’s budget message “The fiscal realities we face require hard choices. A decade of deficits, compounded by the effects of the recession and the steps we had to take to break it, as well as the chronic failure to confront difficult decisions, has put us on an unsustainable course. That’s why my Budget lays out a path for how we can pay down these debts and free the American economy from their burden.” The proposal stated that the number one goal is a significant reduction in America’s budgetary deficit.
A lot of hope is vested in the ability of the proposed 2012 budget to reflect the readiness and willingness of the Administration to make tough, but necessary, calls. In many ways the budget proposal succeeds at building up a great deal of enthusiasm, but fails to show true bite. It is politics that is ‘done’ on the Hill and budget proposals account for that. The President makes the proposals but Congress will eventually pass the budget. Given that in Washington programs don’t ‘die’ easily, it is hard to believe that the final budget will reflect all the needed changes.
While the Administration seems willing to sacrifice some environmental spending, President Obama makes it clear that environmental concerns will remain an important part of the domestic spending, both through direct spending and through an increased focus in education. As stated in the message, “We do this by encouraging American innovation and investing in research and development–especially in the job-creating industries of tomorrow such as cleans energy.”
The budget proposal estimates a deficit of $1.101 trillion despite rather significant proposed cuts in non-security discretionary spending. Environment related spending represents some of those cuts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s total allocation is reduced by $1.3 billion. This includes a $950 million reduction in State Revolving Funds and a $125 million reduction in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds. In addition, approximately $160 million in targeted water infrastructure earmarks are removed and $80 million clean diesel grant program is terminated.
Nevertheless, the 2012 budget proposal demonstrates the President’s significant dedication to environmental needs. This is reflected within the proposal within three dominant themes: the Administration shows a real consideration for the role of the environment within the makeup of the nation, the Administration undertakes efforts to ease the pressure on the environment by making environmentally friendly changes and the future economic development of United States is strategically linked to environmentally friendly developments.
First, given the recent environmental disasters, the President would like to make responsible exploitation of natural resources a key criterion in undertaking any such ventures. It is suggested to restore the Gulf Coast Ecosystem with portions of the penalties that were paid from the parties held responsible for the oil spill.
Within the budget proposal, over $500 million is allocated to restructure the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. Funding will be used to hire new oil and gas inspectors, engineers, scientists in order to establish real-time monitoring of key drilling activities; conduct detailed engineering reviews of offshore drilling and production safety systems; and implement more aggressive reviews of company oil spill response plans.
Furthermore, the President hopes to provide sufficient incentives to maximize efficiency and effectiveness of forest restoration efforts. Over $1.4 billion is allocated for restoring and protecting 271,158 acres of wetlands within the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Administration will also fully fund the Conservation Reserve Program and maintain the program’s enrollment at 32 million acres. Funds are kept in place for improving 6 million acres within regional ecosystems such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Bay-Delta region in California and the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
Second, the President would like to see a significant decrease in water and air pollution. It is hoped to cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. The goal is to double the electricity from alternative energy sources by 2035.The Administration would like the United States to become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and to have 80 percent of used electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035.
The Administration hopes to decrease the energy usage by commercial and institutional buildings by 20 percent by 2020. Within this initiative, $100 million is allocated to a “Race to Green” competition for State and municipal governments to implement innovative approaches to building codes, standards and performance measurements. In addition the Administration includes $73 million to maintain and issue permits for 9,000 megawatts of new solar, wind and geothermal energy generation on federal lands by the end of 2011. In the budget proposal it is also suggested to remove fossil fuel subsidies.
Finally, the Administration wants to redirect the economy towards taking a leading global role in green technology. The President believes that whoever leads in the global, clean energy economy will also take the lead in creating high-paying, highly-skilled jobs for its citizens. The Department of Energy (DOE) budget allocation increases by 12 percent, which is primarily aimed at developing clean energy sources. Renewable energy grants are proposed to continue in 2012. Administration proposes $6.5 billion in financial assistance to electric cooperatives, research institutes and small businesses to promote and encourage developments in renewable energy and biofuels. The President proposes $5.4 billion for long-term research and development at the Office of Science and $550 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. Overall, renewable energy research, development and deployment activities receive significant allocation: $457 million for solar energy; $341 million for biofuels and biomass research and development and $453 million for research on carbon capture and storage.
The budget proposals might be soft in regards to dealing with health care spending, social security spending, military spending and somewhat rosy in terms of taxation restructuring. Some of the estimates that the proposal makes of economic growth and gains from more effective program implementation might also be a little too much on the bright side. The proposal is full of promise, but falls short in showing complete willingness to make tough choices. However, by putting programs associated with his electoral campaign on the chopping block, the President is showing that he is willing to discuss. It could very well be that the ‘softness’ of the budget is intentional to get the parties talking. Once the discussion has started it would be much easier to agree on tough choices.
In essence there is no doubt that the President has a clear devotion to environmental concerns. While, there are significant budget cuts, the message of the Administration is that it supports and believes that environmental concerns are crucial to the identity of the nation and the economy. Will this message survive the particular interests and pet projects in Congress? This remains to be seen. For now it is clear though that the Administration, even in these difficult budgetary times, remains ‘green.’
ASPA?member Alexandru V. Roman is a Ph.D. student in Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University. Email: [email protected]
ASPA?member Schnequa N. Diggs is a Ph.D. student in Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University. She has previously worked for the Chesapeake Planning Department and Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Email [email protected]