Obama’s spending blueprint aims for ‘green’ legacy

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2016

President Obama will deliver his final budget proposal today, which will seek to cement his environmental legacy with billions of dollars in clean energy investments and by building on the global climate deal struck in Paris.

“My budget is going to double our investment in clean energy research and development by the end of the decade,” Obama said Friday during a short White House press conference. “That’s going to help businesses create more jobs faster, it’s going to lower the cost of clean energy faster, it’s going to help renewable power compete with dirty fuels across America in a more effective way.”

On climate change, Obama will likely propose a new $1.65 billion, 10-year fund for climate infrastructure. The funding would go toward programs to retrofit, replace or repower diesel equipment, like school buses, for example, to help reduce global warming.

The White House is set to propose $8.27 billion for U.S. EPA, which would give the agency more than the $8.1 billion lawmakers appropriated for fiscal 2016 (ClimateWire, Feb. 5).

The proposed budget will also likely include $268.2 million for state and local air pollution control agency grants, a $40 million increase above current spending, sources have said.

But EPA spending would fall short of the $8.6 billion the president wanted last February. Spending for implementing the Clean Power Plan would stay steady under the upcoming proposal at $25 million.

Congressional Republicans are already questioning a likely proposal to increase funding for EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by more than 10 percent to over $1 billion, in part to help make loans available for communities working to replace aging water systems like the one in Flint, Mich.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Friday criticized the move as “robbing Peter to pay Paul” because the money would come from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to find a bipartisan solution to help the children and families in Flint, and any similarly affected communities, as well as work to ensure these EPA accounts are responsibly funded,” Inhofe added.

Obama’s boldest green budget proposal will be a $10-per-barrel tax on U.S. oil to provide $32 billion annually for clean vehicle development, public transit and urban planning (E&ENews PM, Feb. 5). The president on Friday said making such investments now would help ease the U.S. “economy off of dirty fuels.”

Republicans were quick to say the plan would never be considered by Congress and warned it would cause a spike in gas prices. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday blasted Obama as “anti-energy” and said the president was aiming to destroy the fossil fuel industry as part of his “long-term fantasy” to end climate change.

The budget could also spark a partisan battle over a White House push to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a conservation program that conservatives have long said is in need of reform. Leaders with the Interior and Agriculture departments confirmed the new budget would include $900 million for LWCF (Greenwire, Feb. 4).

Also related to climate change, the budget will seek to double funding for a competitive research grant program that boosts alternative energy and helps crops withstand climate change, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week.

The proposal would bring total funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to $700 million, the first time the administration has sought the full authorized level since its inception in 2008 (E&ENews PM, Feb. 4).

An accelerated process

The White House plans to put out the budget, likely the first to top $4 trillion, at 11 a.m. The release will kick off an accelerated appropriations process on Capitol Hill as lawmakers rush to write the 12 annual spending bills before heading to the fall campaign trail.

Already, Republicans are blasting the White House budget as dead on arrival, and the House and Senate Budget committees are not inviting Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan to testify.

“It is clear that this President will not put forth the budget effort that our times and our country require. Instead of hearing from an administration unconcerned with our $19 trillion in debt, we should focus on how to reform America’s broken budget process and restore the trust of hardworking taxpayers,” Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said last week of the decision to not hold hearings with the White House budget chief.

Democrats were quick to criticize the move. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it a sign of “corrosive radicalism” within the GOP and said she hoped the development would not derail efforts to pass a bipartisan budget.

Republican leaders believe they have the best chance in two decades to move the 12 annual spending bills, in large part because of last year’s bipartisan budget deal that raised discretionary spending by about $30 billion for fiscal 2017.

Ryan has said he’s aiming to have the House budget on the floor by early March and have the 12 spending bills clear the House by July. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he expects to hold more than 100 hearings on the budget this year — several subcommittee meetings are set for this week — and is aiming to mark up the first fiscal 2017 spending bills by early April.

Hard-line House conservatives, however, are threatening to disrupt those plans in a push for lower overall discretionary spending. But Rogers has warned against breaking the bipartisan deal. He said doing so would be a “one-way” ticket to a year-end omnibus spending package that would be politically unpopular and leave no room for policy riders (E&E Daily, Feb. 5).

Schedule: The hearing on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission request is Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2362-B.

Witnesses: Stephen Burns, NRC chairman; and NRC Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, William Ostendorff, and Jeff Baran.

Schedule: The hearing on the Agriculture Department budget is Thursday, Feb. 11, at 10:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2362-A.

Witnesses: Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack; Robert Johansson, USDA chief economist; Michael Young, USDA budget officer.

Schedule: The hearing on the Bureau of Reclamation Budget is Thursday, Feb. 10, at 1:30 p.m. in Rayburn 2362-B.

Witness: Estevan López, Reclamation commissioner.

Schedule: The hearing on the USDA Office of Inspector General budget is Friday, Feb. 12, at 9:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2362-A.

Witnesses: Phyllis Fong, USDA inspector general; Gil Harden, USDA assistant inspector general for audit; and Ann Coffey, USDA assistant inspector general for investigations.