Obama Budget Invests in Clean Energy and a Healthy Environment

Now that the president's federal budget for FY2011 is out, it's time to assess the environmental implications.  On the highest priority these days -- climate change -- it's safe to say that President Obama is putting his money where his mouth is by ushering in a clean energy economy. That means more jobs, less carbon pollution and a more secure nation.

His budget promotes America’s energy independence by reducing our reliance on foreign oil, starting the transition away from dirty fossil fuels, and investing in conservation and clean power like wind and solar.  Cutting harmful greenhouse pollution and ramping up renewable energy will secure our nation and foster innovation that will make our economy more competitive.  Now it’s up to Congress to deliver on the president’s funding priorities for a cleaner, more secure America.

NRDC experts have scoured the funding proposals for various federal agencies  -- here's a quick roundup of their analysis: 

Energy Department

Overall, this year’s DOE budget request doesn’t disappoint, outside issues with nuclear energy.  (On that score, NRDC is opposed to the president's proposal to provide additional loan guarantees for the nuclear power industry.  We believe it's a mistake to waste taxpayer subsidies on this is mature industry which generates high-cost, non-renewable energy and dangerous waste.)  Fortunately, there's plenty of good stuff, such as: a 5% funding boost for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (where most direct federal spending on clean energy occurs) to around $2.4 billion; 25%-50% increases for select renewables (solar, wind and geothermal); modest funding increase for some efficiency programs (i.e. weatherization, building technologies) starting next year; and more spending on basic science and transformational, next generation research (most notably the Energy Innovation Hubs and Energy Frontier Research Centers, which would receive over $100 million each) and $300 million more for ARPA-E, the new entity focused on commercializing advanced clean technologies.  Cai Steger breaks this budget down in his blog.

In addition, Dan Lashof's blog focuses on how the president's commitment to climate policy is embedded in the budget.  In particular, he applauds Obama's comprehensive approach, which confirms that steady investments in essential clean energy technologies are fully paid for by polluters because they must purchase permits to comply with the pollution cap.

Agency for International Development, State and Treasury Departments

The president put forth $1.4 billion in much-needed investments in developing countries to address the impacts of global warming pollution, shift to a clean energy future, and reduce the loss of tropical rainforests.  The proposed budget represents a 38% increase from the previous international climate change finance budget -- this is aimed at beefing up the U.S. contribution to the Copenhagen Accord goal of $10 billion per year of fast-start funds.  Although much more is needed to advance climate goals on the international front, the president clearly wants to make a solid down payment toward helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, speed the transition to a global low carbon economy, and maintain the momentum of action spurred by the Copenhagen Accord.  Heather Allen digs deep on this funding in her blog.

Interior Department

The president reaffirmed his commitment to addressing global warming by proposing steps to help the U.S. transition away from the dirty fossil fuels that cause global warming and other considerable air and water contamination.  Take the federal oil and gas budget, where the president wants to make some changes, including: repealing the $36.5 billion annual tax breaks for fossil fuel prodcuers; ending mandatory research to promote oil and gas; and finally charging fees to oil companies for processing oil and gas drilling permits on federal lands.  Amy Mall's blog has all the details.

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA's budget enjoyed a significant bounce in funding, as President Obama proposed a roughly 26% increase in the agency's funding (from $7.6 billion to $10.3 billion).  Of paramount importance, the president’s budget requests additional funds for EPA to carry out its responsibilities to address global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act -- starting with $47 million to carry out greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements (as Congress directed); to develop achievable and affordable performance standards for categories of carbon-emitting vehicles and industrial sources; and to help states prepare to act quickly and efficiently on future industry needs for construction and operation permits.  All of these actions are important and long-overdue steps towards protecting our health and the environment from the dangers of global warming pollution, under the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  David Doniger has more on this in his blog.

Other key items in EPA's proposed budget include: a $1.9 million increase (to $55 million) for the Energy Star Program, a major tool in encouraging energy efficiency; $215 million to cleanup and redevelop brownfields (an increase of $41 million); and $1.3 billion for superfund cleanup (equal to FY2010), but also a recommendation from the president to reinstate the Superfund cleanup fee for the oil and chemical industry.  In his blog Scott Slesinger provides a much more in-depth overview of the EPA's encouraging budget.

Meanwhile, Jon Devine focuses exclusively on water funding in his blog.  On the whole, he says that those who care about clean water should be generally pleased with the EPA's proposed budget, minus a handful of concerns.  Worth noting are the reductions proposed for the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water state revolving funds -- each would take a $100 million hit, so that the overall amount would be reduced from $3.5 billion (FY 2010) to $3.3 billion.  Cutting these funds is disappointing, as the unmet infrastructure need is enormous.  However, on a positive note, the president directed that 20 percent of the revolving funds should be directed to projects such as green infrastructure and water efficiency.  In addition, president’s proposal would increase EPA’s funding for activities and regulatory improvements to help restore the Chesapeake Bay (specifically, it would increase the level by $13 million to $63 million).  Meanwhile, Great Lakes restoration funding would be cut substantially (from $475 million last year to $300 million), which is unfortunate.  The president's proposal to direct $17 million in new funding to an EPA program focused on reducing nutrient pollution from runoff in the Mississippi River basin is welcome. 

Department of Transportation

Not much movement in either direction for DOT, but a slight bump up from $77 billion to $78.8 billion.  What is apparent is that Obama is not just paying lip-service to transportation reform.  His vision for reform is one of a more accountable and efficient system that is clearly linked with national goals (including sustainability).  He's also not afraid of making big-ticket transportation investments if they have clear benefits and local support (political and financial).  More details in Colin Peppard's blog.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA appears to be a winner in the president’s budget, with a slight uptick in funding -- largely attributable to a $2 billion investment in climate and weather observing satellites.  A close look at the numbers does reflect Obama’s efforts to promote responsible stewardship of our nation’s ocean and coastal areas.  Regan Nelson offers more insight in her blog.

Fish and Wildlife Service

The budget is a a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to wildlife protection.  On the plus side, the president proposes increasing funding for regional science centers to study the impact of global warming on wildlife, putting more money toward implementing recovery plans for endangered species.  On the other hand, Obama calls for cuts to one of the agency's most basic functions: identifying and protecting wildlife and plants in need of the Endangered Species Act's safety net.  Andrew Wetzler provides more information in his blog.