US environmental spending declining, despite 2001 budget increases

Despite a 43% increase in spending to reduce global warming and the largest increase ever for the US EPA's operating budget, President Clinton's final budget shows that that US Government spending on the environment is shrinking, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE).

President Clinton’s eighth and final budget includes a proposed $2.4 billion to reduce global warming – a 43% increase over current levels – plus a request for $7.3 billion for the US EPA’s operating budget, $9 billion in tax credits for energy-efficient cars, homes and appliances and $2.2 billion for the Better America Bonds programme.

But FoE points out that US Government spending on the environment is shrinking. While the budget for fiscal year 2001 proposes an overall increase of more than 11 percent – or $4 billion – for environmental and conservation purposes, federal spending on environmental and conservation programme has not kept pace with other budget priorities, FoE says. Overall federal spending has grown 22 percent since 1993, but environmental programmes have only grown 14 percent.

In 1993, environmental spending was 1.81 percent of the overall federal budget at $26.7 billion; in 2000, environmental spending will shrink to 1.69 percent at $30.4 billion, FoE say.

The environment remains a vote winner, however. Recent research shows that the American public is likely to support President Clinton’s climate change policies. A survey conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) shows that a strong majority of Americans believes evidence for global warming justifies moderate spending in support of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the survey found that a majority of Americans favours the ratification of the Kyoto Treaty.

The US economy is currently in the longest period of expansion in its history. Budget deficits have fallen from $290 billion in 1992 to a projected $167 billion surplus. Clinton has presided over a $297 billion reduction of public debt – the largest in American history. Meanwhile, US Government spending has declined from 22. 2% of the economy in 1992 to 18.7% of the economy in 1999 – the lowest share since 1966.

The 2001 budget is intended to keep federal spending tight in order to pay off public debt by 2013. This will be achieved by using the entire Social Security surplus, $2.2 trillion over 10 years as well as $350 billion of the $746 billion non-Social Security.

Overall, President Clinton and Vice President Gore propose $42.5 billion in 2001 to protect the environment, communities and families. This is an 11% increase over the Budget for 2000 and a 36% increase over 1993 levels.

The Budget proposes:

  • $2.4 billion to reduce global warming plus $1.7 billion for scientific research into the factors influencing climate and the likely consequences of global warming
  • $7.3 billion for the US EPA. This includes $784 million for the Clean Water Action Plan. Of this, $50 million is intended for the protection of the Great Lakes. $45 million in state grants is planned to improve polluted waterways; and there will be new funding options to protect water bodies from polluted runoff.

    The EPA will get $215 million to improve air quality, plus up to $85 million for the Clean Air Partnership Fund, designed to develop air clean-up plans for communities.

    The budget also provides $227 million for the EPA’s Climate Change Technology Initiative to help save more than $35 billion in energy costs over the next decade, while reducing greenhouse gases.

    In addition, the EPA’s provisions include $1.45 billion for the Superfund toxic waste site remediation programme. Clinton has requested $92 million for the Brownfields programme that helps put abandoned sites back into productive use

  • $690 million in tax credits over five years in support of a total of $10.75 billion worth of ‘Better America Bonds.’ The programme allows states and local governments to carry out their own conservation projects by using zero interest bonds to purchase open space, protect water quality, improve access to parks, and help communities redevelop abandoned industrial city centres
  • $9 billion in tax credits for energy-efficient cars, homes, and appliances
  • $9.3 billion for the ‘Livable Communities’ initiative. The Livable Communities budget includes $211 million for new transit system work in 12 urban regions
  • $1.4 billion is proposed to be spent on a permanent Lands Legacy to be spent on wildlife, wilderness and coastal protection. In addition, Clinton has proposed a protected budget category to preserve this higher level of funding in future years
  • An $11 billion package to strengthen the Farm Safety Net until the end of 2002, when the next farm bill will be enacted to repair the weaknesses of the 1996 Farm Bill.
  • $150 million for a new Greening the Globe initiative to help stem the loss of forests worldwide (see related story in World section of this weeks news)

FoE says these proposals will not happen without a stronger commitment from the president and Congress. “New initiatives and proposals are good, but history shows that Congress and the president are not serious about beefing up conservation and environmental protection,” said Gawain Kripke, director of economics campaigns for Friends of the Earth. “Since 1993, the US economy has grown more than 40% and the federal government has budget surpluses as far as the eye can see. At the same time, drinking water systems serving more than 50 million Americans violate health standards, and air pollution is so bad in several metropolitan areas, it’s causing respiratory diseases and increasing asthma in children.”

Alden Meyer, director of government relations at the Union of Concerned Scientists, welcomes the climate-related initiatives, but agrees that Congress could be the stumbling block. “President Clinton has laid out an ambitious set of proposals with respect to global warming and domestic energy solutions. Now comes the hard part – getting these programmes funded by Congress. The public overwhelmingly supports increased federal support for renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. This being an election year, the president should use the bully pulpit to keep the heat on Congress to fund these popular initiatives.”

The Sierra Club applauded the US Government’s request for Livable Communiites funding – particularly its transport proposals – and urged Congress to fund the proposal. “This is a bold step towards combating sprawl and making communities more livable for all Americans,” said Deron Lovaas, Associate Representative for Sierra Club’s smart growth campaign. “However, it is important for Congress to remember that this investment is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars we still spend each year on sprawl-promoting highways and infrastructure.”

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