Tomorrow (Tuesday, February 9), the Obama administration will present its last budget to Congress for the fiscal year that begins October 1, 2016. With most of his signature environmental initiatives accomplished, and Congress unlikely to adopt any pro-active environmental laws he proposes, writing the first iteration of the must-pass federal budget will be one of the final opportunities the president has to shape his legacy for our air, water, our lands, and our climate. As U.S. lawmakers debate the budget over the next eight months, PennEnvironment will be advocating against anti-environmental policy riders or funding cuts designed to block the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, and other Obama administration initiatives. In addition, together with our national federation at Environment America, we’re calling on the president to include the following ten priorities his budget to help ensure a greener, cleaner, healthier future for Pennsylvania, the country, and the planet.
Therefore, I’d like to respectfully ask that you consider editorializing in favor of these initiatives as well on the heels of the president’s budget announcement.
1. The nation’s most important land conservation program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund has created or expanded 40,000 parks and other projects in all 50 states for Americans to hike, fish, paddle, or just enjoy the great outdoors. Revenue from offshore drilling leases is dedicated to fund the program, but Congress has consistently raided those funds, and last year even allowed this critical conservation program to expire. We’re calling for a green budget that fully funds the Land & Water Conservation Fund at $900 million. Conservation projects that hang in the balance include protecting lands around the Pacific Crest Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail; expanding protections for the Everglades; and protecting spaces like the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area right here in Pennsylvania. Last week, the White House announced it would indeed be asking for full funding for LWCF, which is fantastic news, and we’re looking forward to getting Congress to follow through on this critical request.
2. Protecting our parks on their 100th birthday. August 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service—the agency tasked with the maintenance and protection of our nation’s nearly 500 parks, trails, and recreation areas, from Washington’s Mt. Rainier to Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. Yet since 2005, the National Park Service’s budget has been cut by half a billion dollars – leading to long-term staff losses, closed facilities, and the growth of the $11.3 billion backlog for deferred regular maintenance. More Americans than ever before are likely to visit our parks for the Centennial, but will our parks be ready with adequate facilities and enough rangers? A green budget should include at least $1 billion for the Centennial to address thousands of facility needs, facilitate volunteer and ranger coordination, and ensure that we—and future generations—can enjoy our parks like Valley Forge National Historical Park for the next 100 years.
3. Safe drinking water. All Americans deserve safe drinking water. Yet as the unfolding crisis in Flint, Michigan makes clear that we can no longer take this basic public health expectation for granted. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that communities will need $384 billion in drinking water infrastructure between now and 2030. A green budget should fund the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund at $2 billion to ensure that all communities can provide safe, clean drinking water to their residents. The revolving fund should give clear priority to repairing existing infrastructure and water efficiency and conservation.
4. Sustainable, green communities. Each year, billions of gallons of sewage overflows and stormwater runoff pollute our waters, close beaches, or make people sick. Across the country, communities are eager to fix their wastewater treatment systems and prevent pollution with the use of rain barrels, rooftop gardens, permeable pavement, open space, and other “green infrastructure” techniques that capture stormwater on-site before it causes pollution. But our communities also need federal resources to implement these solutions, with EPA estimating local needs at $271 billion over the next 20 years. In Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—our two largest metropolitan areas—we’re struggling with stormwater management and are under a federal consent order from EPA to clean up this chronic pollution. A green budget should fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $4 billion, with at least 20 percent of the funds dedicated to green infrastructure projects to prevent water pollution.
5. Saving energy in buildings and appliances. The buildings where we live and work consume 40 percent of our energy and contribute to nearly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution — not to mention a substantial amount of health-threatening smog and soot. Much of that energy is wasted through air leaks and outdated, unnecessarily inefficient appliances. The Department of Energy’s Office of Building Technologies has played a critical role in advancing energy savings by promoting more energy efficient buildings, lighting, appliances and industrial equipment. Through research and technical assistance to local and state governments and manufacturers, the program has generated tremendous progress on energy efficiency, from 90 percent efficiency improvements in refrigerators, televisions and lighting, to dramatic improvements in local and state building energy codes. A green budget should provide at least $250 million to DOE’s Office of Building Technologies.
6. Advancing solar energy. By supporting research, innovation and partnerships to promote residential and commercial photovoltaics and utility scale solar, the Solar Energy Technologies Office has helped lay the foundation for the recent rise in solar across the country and in Pennsylvania, where solar has grown 25% over the last 3 years. A cornerstone of the office is the SunShot Initiative, with a goal of making solar energy technologies cost competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020. Solar is nearing a tipping point. By expanding resources for the Solar Energy Technologies office to $275 million, millions more Americans will be able to go solar in the next decade, putting us on a path to a 100 percent clean energy.
7. The Green Climate Fund was established by the United Nations to assist developing nations reduce their carbon footprints and make the transition to clean, renewable energy. The Green Climate Fund is a critical component to the successful implementation of the Paris agreement, which sets a goal of preventing global warming above 2 degrees Celsius—the benchmark scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The U.S. has pledged $3 billion to the fund; this year a green budget should accomplish a quarter of that with $750 million. Meeting the goals set in Paris have plenty of implications here in Pennsylvanians; 9 out of 10 Pennsylvanians live in a county that has been affected by at least one extreme weather disaster in the past five years, and scientists say these events will become more severe and frequent without action to curb pollution.
8. Advancing clean electric vehicles. We can power our cars entirely with clean, renewable energy, dramatically curbing global warming pollution and ensuring cleaner air for our communities. But we need advanced technologies to deploy electric vehicles widely and affordably across the country. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Vehicle Technologies is meeting this challenge head-on. It implements the EV Everywhere program, which has a goal of making electric cars as affordable and convenient as conventional gasoline cars in the next five years. The office encourages charging stations at workplaces, provides grants to cities to convert their fleets to cleaner cars through the Clean Cities Initiative in Pittsburgh and Eastern Pennsylvania, and is partnering with private entities to research and develop lower-cost vehicles without compromising safety. Now more than ever we need a big boost to advance the cause of clean electric cars, which is why a green budget should include at least $350 million for the Office of Vehicle Technologies.
9. Advancing wind power. By supporting research and development, reducing financial, institutional, and technical barriers to deploying wind energy, the Wind Power Technologies Office has been able to accelerate the wind industry’s technical progress, making turbines more efficient than ever, and by awarding funding in order to begin development on America’s first offshore wind farm. Continuing research, development and investment in technology will help grow the U.S. offshore wind industry, reduce the cost of onshore wind, and facilitate the deployment of environmentally sited wind turbines. The Wind Power Technologies Office has a goal to grow wind energy by nearly five-fold, making it 20 percent of America’s energy supply by 2030. Investment and growth in America’s onshore and offshore wind industry will allow for enough wind capacity for millions more Americans and Pennsylvanians to power their homes with this pollution-free energy source. A green budget should include $150 million for the Wind Technologies Office.
10. Ending oil subsidies. America is fortunate to have nearly limitless potential for wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. At the same time, with the climate crisis upon us, special places like the Arctic and the Outer Banks continue to be threatened by drilling to feed our nation’s gluttonous appetite for oil. A green budget should move us away from fossil fuels and toward 100 percent clean energy. Yet for nearly a century, the federal government has subsidized U.S. drilling activities, polluting the environment and costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. A green budget should eliminate these subsidies, ending tax credits for domestic manufacturing and the practice of drillers writing off the expense of 15 percent of their income (the “depletion allowance”) and their so-called “intangible costs,” and more. Ending the worst of these subsidies would save at least $6 billion.
As outlined above, there are a number of commonsense and achievable priorities that should be included in the president’s final budget. These will expand his legacy of protecting our health and environment, and promoting clean energy to tackle climate change.