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Early in 2013, Congress must make budget decisions about the remainder of this year. Looming cuts threaten essential environmental programs, while tax loopholes continue to subsidize polluters.

Deal Only Delays Deep Cuts

On New Year's Day, Congress postponed the "fiscal cliff" by passing a last-minute tax bill. After years of significant spending cuts, the bill was the first to provide needed revenue to continue popular federal programs including incentives promoting clean energy. But the final bill did not raise enough revenue to put the country on a sustainable fiscal footing nor did it close irresponsible tax loopholes.

Moreover, the deal only postponed automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, called the sequester. The sequester process, which Congress put in place in 2011, was supposed to force legislators to put together a sensible compromise on the budget, but it has not. Instead, the deep, automatic cuts -- now due to take effect March 1 -– would cripple essential programs that protect our air, our water, our wildlife and our national parks.

Current Approach Still Unbalanced

For years, pushed by Republican leaders, Congress has sought to solve the ongoing fiscal crisis by using spending cuts alone. Even after the additional revenue raised by the end-of-year tax bill, three-quarters of all deficit reduction comes from spending cuts.

This trend will only worsen if Congress does not address the sequester which will bring even more devastating cuts to important environmental and health programs. For example, funding levels for the Environmental Protection Agency would be reduced to their lowest levels since the 1980s. Environmental and natural resource programs only are only 1.25 percent of the federal budget –- more cuts won't solve our budget crisis but will cripple important programs.

Examples of what the sequester or a similarly bad budget deal could mean, include:

  • Closure of some national parks, wildlife refuges, and ending visitor programs on these and other public lands, severely impacting the nearly $650 billion annual economic contribution generated by outdoor recreation, much of which is supported by activities on these lands;
  • Cuts to research and development programs at the Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency will hinder the creation of new, world-leading American technologies in wind, solar and biofuels;
  • Cutting EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Fund will cripple a critical tool for addressing pollution from sewage systems and storm water runoff that threatens public health and our use and enjoyment of waterways and increase burdens on local property tax payers. Cutting a program that has created between 1.4 and 2 million jobs since 1988 will only undermine needed investment in our public water infrastructure and cost thousands of jobs.
  • These are just some examples of popular programs that should be sustained because they protect public health, wildlife, public lands, clean air and water and a sustainable energy future.

Learn more about the sequester's impacts >>

Polluter Loopholes Still Open

Environmental programs provide enormous health and economic benefits to the public while businesses that pollute cause significant harms. Yet if the sequester cuts go into effect, environmental programs will be cut but polluter tax loopholes will remain untouched.

Despite high gas prices and record profits, Congress continues to lard taxpayer dollars onto Big Oil companies. Every year nearly $8 billion of unneeded tax loopholes and subsidies are given out to these incredibly profitable companies that are completely gratuitous. In addition, these subsidies encourage companies that generate dangerous levels of pollution that cause more than $120 billion in public health costs annually from the asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Beyond those direct costs, fossil fuels are also are the key driver of climate change, which is causing more frequent episodes of costly extreme weather, including record heat waves, historic drought, damaging wildfires and punishing storms such as Hurricane Sandy.

Since Congress is finally taking a look at the math, they should see that continuing to allow these loopholes, which cost us on both side of the ledger, no longer makes sense. Instead of cutting important programs even more, Congress needs to end these irresponsible loopholes.

Republicans Playing a Dangerous Game

To make matters worse, some Republicans in Congress are threatening to let the government default on its debts by refusing to raise the debt ceiling if they don't get their way on spending cuts. Business leaders and the head of the Federal Reserve have pointed out how destructive this would be to the economy. Without raising the debt ceiling, the government will not be able to issue bonds to cover expenses the Congress already authorized. They would rather the United States lose its standing in the world economy than to give up on their mission to cut environmental protection and other essential government programs even further. This is a dangerous approach to solving our nation's budget problems and could lead to disastrous effects if played to the end.

The Republican leadership has issued another dangerous threat, saying they might shut down the government if they don't get their way. Current government spending authority runs out in March, and the government will have no money to pay its current bills after that if Congress fails to act.

Instead of holding the nation's economy for ransom, Republican leaders must work with all parties to find a responsible solution that protects American families.

A Stronger Economy

Putting the nation's fiscal house in order over the long term requires essential programs which provide enormous public benefits. We need an economy that is cleaner, healthier, stronger, and made to last and that means we cannot afford to cripple programs that we all rely on while keeping billions flowing to Big Oil. A responsible approach to deficit reduction will reject these cuts and recognize a healthy environment supports a healthy economy.

last revised 3/4/2013

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