When a government shutdown was averted earlier this month with the passage of a spending agreement that cut $38 billion from the federal budget, the Obama administration was quick to boast that it avoided serious limits to environmental protection pushed by Republicans.
“We…made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women’s health and the protection of our air and water,” President Obama said in a late-night public address. “These are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget.
It’s true that measures intended to severely hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency were avoided. Republicans were pushing a $3 billion reduction to the agency’s budget—a 29 percent spending cut—and a measure to strip the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in any form.
In the final compromise, however, the EPA still got a $1.49 billion haircut, a 16 percent reduction and more than other targeted agencies. Moreover, a line-by-line examination of the bill reveals nearly $1.8 billion in additional cuts to other environmental initiatives outside the EPA, which more than doubles the total harm done to environmental protection. Many of these cuts still target climate change-related programs.
The EPA is still reviewing how it will operate with nearly $1.5 billion less than it did last year. In a statement to The Nation, the agency said it was “reviewing the funding levels and will have more details when that review is complete. We understand the need to make difficult decisions to ensure the government lives within its means.”
In comments to Reuters after the deal was struck, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson indicated many of the cuts would come in funding to states to help pay for pollution abatement and to some programs on climate change.
Environmental groups are a little more direct about the effect the cuts will have on the EPA’s agenda. “Republican opponents of EPA clearly have wounded the agency in a big way,“ Frank O’Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch, told Reuters.
A more direct assault on climate change programs came in the non-EPA cuts. Funding was blocked entirely for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate service, which was to allow the NOAA to “provide a reliable and authoritative source for climate data, information, and decision support services.”
The compromise also limited funds to the Interior Department’s “wild lands” policy, introduced in December and designed to protect land that had not yet been designated as wilderness land. Beyond preserving natural spaces, the program could prevent those areas from being used for oil and gas drilling. Republicans are strongly opposed to the program.
Some of the other reductions to environmental programs throughout the government include:
The Department of Agriculture lost $34 million for a renewable energy program, $119 million for a wetlands protection program and $80 million for a program providing environmental incentives to farmers.
The Department of Energy saw $438 million taken from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, $20 million from nondefense environmental cleanup and $101 million from nuclear waste disposal.
The Interior Department lost nearly a billion dollars for clean drinking water programs and an additional $49 million for climate change efforts.
Funding for these programs can of course be re-instituted at a later date, but activists worry even temporary delays will slow the environmental agenda. “The cuts are coming just at the time the EPA is finally waking up and starting to adopt basic safeguards [and] is going to have a significant impact,” Gabe Wisniewski of Greenpeace told Bloomberg News.