Zinke’s Budget Is Another Practice in Cognitive Dissonance
The Trump administration released its budget request for Fiscal Year 2019 earlier this week, a disaster of a proposal mitigated. Though this blueprint for destruction is likely dead on arrival in Congress, it nevertheless has effectively quantified Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s priorities for the Department of the Interior (DOI). It belies his regular assurances that he and the president he serves don’t pick winners and losers in pursuit of “energy dominance.” If Zinke had his way, fossil fuels would win; clean, renewable energy would lose. And our public lands would be collateral damage.
Like last year’s budget, this year’s is a testament to cognitive dissonance. Perhaps the most concrete example is Zinke’s claim that this budget is focused on the need to “rebuild” what is broken at Interior, before proceeding to seek a $2.2 billion cut to DOI, a 16 percent decrease from the previously enacted level. At the same time, he’s requesting $18 million to support the reorganization of Interior, eliminating thousands of employees and undercutting offices, staff, and programs dedicated to carrying out its core conservation missions.
As shown above, Interior has requested a substantial boost for fossil fuel programs and cuts for renewable energy programs. These changes represent a 14.7 percent overall increase ($28.1 million) to fossil fuels and a 30.1 percent cut ($15.8 million) to renewables compared to the funding provided in the FY18 continuing resolution. As Interior is tasked with managing the federal mineral estate—all 700 million acres worth—its budget can be highly consequential for America’s energy landscape. Thoughtful stewardship of our public lands and waters could help advance a clean energy future, but this administration is intent on doing anything but.
Those changes don’t tell the whole story. The budget proposal also includes requests to eliminate several environmental review requirements while expanding fossil fuel leasing and permitting, placing an emphasis on opening new areas onshore and offshore, including the embattled Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and our Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic, and Eastern Gulf coasts. As my colleagues wrote, should Interior achieve its goals for leasing and permitting fossil fuel extraction on public lands, our natural heritage, health, and the climate would suffer.
Conservation would, too. Despite the budget document naming the creation of “a conservation stewardship legacy second only to Teddy Roosevelt” a priority, the specific proposals would make that impossible. For example, one of DOI’s most effective conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, would be effectively eliminated. And dollars that should go to conservation programs would likely be reallocated to a new infrastructure fund to address the growing maintenance backlog. But that fund could also be used to build items that have no conservation value, such as new roads. The budget request would eliminate the Bureau of Land Management’s land acquisition program, as well as funds for National Heritage Areas and discretionary payments into the National Wildlife Refuge program.
Simply put, the budget abdicates this administration’s obligation and responsibility to conserve our waters and lands, resources that are owned by all Americans. Worse, in turn it largely advances a singular vision that stands to exclusively benefit fossil fuel interests.