Today a House and Senate Budget Conference are meeting for the first time to address the impasse that led to the government shutdown. The House has passed but the Senate has killed hundreds, yes hundreds of amendments attempting to weaken environmental protections. However, while failing to directly weaken the laws that protect our environment, they have been successful in weakening EPA and the natural resource agencies by gutting their budget
Because of the last sequester deal, absent congressional action, funding for nondefense discretionary programs will be 19 percent below 2010 levels adjusted for inflation, due to cuts made in FY11 and under the Budget Control Act. To date, nondefense discretionary spending, including environmental protections, have been disproportionately cut. These have had real impacts on the economy and to the health and welfare of American families. As almost all commentators had noted, these cuts in domestic discretionary have no impact on the trajectory of our deficits but it does leave a deficit in protections, infrastructure and our competitiveness.
And, though EPA and Interior are attacked in the House relentlessly, their budget impact of environmental programs is tiny; in FY 2013, the federal government spent only 1.5 percent of its total, $3.4 trillion budget on environment and energy.
The EPA and resource agencies absorbed the FY13 sequester by finding costs savings that were temporary in nature and cannot be sustained in the long-term. Compounded with the impact of out-year spending reductions and the reality that agencies will have to absorb inflation and other fixed costs, we expect that continuing the sequester will cause lasting damage to these agencies’ abilities to carry out their respective missions. Any added flexibility, agency discretion or piecemeal efforts to fix the problem would be insufficient to address the fundamental problem that the sequester is damaging by its nature and cannot be sustained.
Cutting programs for protections, and cutting assistance to the poor, does not address the budget problem. We need a balanced program that includes revenue. The easiest place to start is ending unnecessary tax subsidies for oil and gas extraction that encourage bad behavior and have outlasted their usefulness for probably 80 years. Giving our mineral wealth away to foreign and domestic mining interests is another place those who really want to attack the deficit should start. Those tax breaks support polluting activities that destroy our lands, pollute our air and water, and drive climate change.