As Budget Talks Heat Up in Congress, Republicans Ramp Up Attacks on Climate Spending

Source: By Kristoffer Tigue, Inside Climate News • Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Congress is once again fighting over cuts to the federal budget, putting the government at risk of a shutdown in October. Many Republican proposals target funds for clean energy and climate change.

WASHINGTON – MAY 30: Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, speaks during the House Freedom Caucus news conference to oppose the debt limit deal outside of the US Capitol on Monday, May 30, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Republicans are doubling down on their attacks on clean energy and climate spending, kicking off their return to Congress this week with a slew of bills and amendments that would block key funding pools established under the Inflation Reduction Act and prohibit the federal government from advancing policies aimed at reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to new reports. 

Congress must pass a number of spending bills by Sept. 30, when current funding expires, to avoid a government shutdown. While Democrats and Republicans narrowly avoided a U.S. default last month when they reached a fragile deal to raise the debt ceiling, this week’s budget talks already appear to be on shaky ground as far-right members of the GOP continue to frame climate action and other progressive concerns through America’s culture wars.

In fact, environmentalists are accusing House Republicans of sabotaging any chance for a budget deal this fall by slipping so-called “climate poison pills” into their spending proposals. A poison pill is an amendment to a legislative bill that considerably weakens the bill’s intended effect or ruins the bill’s chances of passing.

Last week, the Clean Budget Coalition—a watchdog group composed of environmental advocacy nonprofits, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Union of Concerned Scientists—said it found at least 17 “poison pill” amendments to appropriations bills that would block clean energy funding and impede federal efforts to address global warming.

“The climate poison pills Republican budget leaders proposed are unsound, and they show that GOP leadership is not serious about working with Democrats to pass a budget and prevent a government shutdown,” Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund, said in a press release. “Their proposed budget, because of these poison pills and cuts to critical clean energy programs, would harm public health and raise energy costs for families and businesses. This is not a starting point for any reasonable negotiations.”

Among the amendments is one that would prohibit the federal government from purchasing electric vehicles and EV batteries, as well as prevent it from building EV charging stations. Another would block the implementation of President Joe Biden’s executive order calling for federal agencies to achieve net-zero emissions at their facilities by 2045 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2032.

One would block all U.S. funding to the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries achieve their emissions and climate-resilience goals under the Paris Agreement. And another would prohibit all funding related to the Justice40 initiative—the cornerstone policy of Biden’s environmental justice agenda that directs federal agencies to deliver 40 percent of the “overall benefits” of their environmental and energy investments to disadvantaged communities.

House Republicans have also proposed a slew of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit the Pentagon’s use of electric vehicles, Maxine Joselow reports for The Washington Post. Among those amendments are ones that would:

  • Prohibit any funding for research and development from being used on projects involving electric vehicles, EV charging infrastructure or solar panel technology;
  • Prevent the Biden administration from invoking the Defense Production Act to boost EVs, EV batteries, EV charging infrastructure or critical minerals used in EVs;
  • And require the Defense Department to terminate any contracts for electric non-combat vehicles.

“The military is no place to experiment with untested technology,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who introduced a bill that promotes military testing of gasoline vehicles, told The Washington Post. “The combat readiness and training of soldiers and equipment is jeopardized by the compelled use of electric vehicles.”

It’s unclear what Gosar means by “untested,” considering most clean energy technologies today have gone through decades of robust research and development. And many technologies regularly used today in civilian settings, including microwaves, radar, planes and computers, were developed specifically by the military during wars.

Not all the spending bills will get a vote, but the sheer amount of proposals that Democrats view as nonstarters suggests Congress is set to see more tough budget negotiations ahead, with a real risk that the government could face a shutdown this fall. Many of the bills targeting climate-related spending are coming from a small group of right-wing hardliners, including Gosar, who have forced their party through threats of obstruction to take more extreme positions on climate policy.

Last month, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee—a panel considered one of the most bipartisan in Congress—voted to advance spending bills that would cut federal funding below the levels lawmakers agreed to as part of the debt ceiling negotiations, just weeks after that deal was struck.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the committee, accused her Republican counterparts of “completely ignoring” the very deal that their leadership had negotiated. “If we disregard the law of the land,” she said in a sharp rebuke to the committee, “we all but guarantee a shutdown in October.”

Reporter, New York City

Kristoffer Tigue is a New York City-based reporter for Inside Climate News, where he covers environmental justice issues, writes the Today’s Climate newsletter and manages ICN’s social media. His work has been published in Reuters, Scientific American, Public Radio International and CNBC. Tigue holds a Master’s degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism, where his feature writing won several Missouri Press Association awards.