Spending the Surplus

Published April 1, 2000

The Clinton-Gore administration has proposed $42.5 billion in spending on environmental projects as part of the FY2001 budget—an increase of 11 percent over last year, and a 35 percent increase from when they took office in 1993. The spending proposal includes programs alleged to preserve forests worldwide, combat unproven global warming, and help build more “livable communities.”

Priority one: Climate change

The President is proposing a “Climate Change Budget” of $2.4 billion (a 42 percent increase over last year) to combat global climate change. This despite the fact that Congress has attached the Knollenberg Amendment to all appropriations bills, prohibiting any spending on research or other programs that could be interpreted as implementing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change until the Senate ratifies it. Another $1.7 billion is budgeted for research into factors influencing the climate and likely consequences of global warming.

Also included in the proposed Climate Change Budget is $289 million in initiatives to boost subsidies for converting crops, trees, and other “bio-mass” into fuels, chemicals, and electricity. Since 1978, the federal government has spent $1.2 billion on bio-mass research with little impact on U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Bio-mass currently provides just 4 percent of the energy produced in the U.S., according to congressional Republicans.

Even some environmental groups, including American Lands, headed by former Indiana Democrat Congressman Jim Jontz, oppose the bio-mass program. Notes Jontz, “At present, tens of millions of tons of trees are burned every year for energy production. The administration’s request to triple the use of bio-fuels will mean more native forests being cut for fuel.” [Editor’s note: The last year the U.S. harvested more trees than it planted was 1933, according to U.S. Forest Service data.]

The Climate Change Budget also proposes $9 billion in tax credits over the next 10 years to encourage the purchase of energy-efficient homes, cars, and appliances. Some $1.4 billion is earmarked for programs to develop renewable energy, including $410 million for solar and wind energy programs and $233 million for research to help improve coal-burning technologies. Another $255 million is budgeted for the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle program, whose goal is to develop an 80 miles-per-gallon, low-emission car by 2004. [General Motors recently took such a car off the market in California due to lack of demand.]

Responding to the energy-related budget elements, Republicans questioned the wisdom of rewarding the Department of Energy–recently under attack for lapses in security–with a budget increase. Moreover, they add, many of the programs slated for increased or continued funding have been receiving government funds for over 20 years, yet have produced few if any results for energy consumers.

Lands Legacy Initiative

The Clinton-Gore administration has also proposed a $1.4 billion investment in the “Lands Legacy Initiative”–more than double the amount Congress appropriated for this program in FY2000. Roughly one-third of the proposed funding ($500 million) would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire land and for state grants to construct recreation facilities; the rest of the funding would have to come from existing spending on activities related to endangered species protection and other programs.

Republicans note that the nation’s four land management agencies–Bureau of Land Management, Fish & Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and Park Service–currently have a backlog of billions of dollars in unmet needs, such as road maintenance. They contend funds should be dedicated to current needs before new land acquisitions are pursued.

The Lands Legacy Initiative calls for $521 million to help state, local, and tribal governments protect wildlife and allegedly threatened farmland, and $100 million for a new program to help states protect non-game wildlife. Another $450 million is allocated to acquire land, including bayous in the Mississippi Delta, giant sequoias in California, Civil War battlefields, and the Florida Everglades. Another $429 million (159 percent more than last year) is proposed to protect ocean and coastal resources. (See “Seaside subsidies,” following page.)

Opponents charge that the federal government is doing a poor job of maintaining the land it currently owns and recklessly spends the budget it has already has. They cite as an example the $800,000 outhouse built at Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area–complete with imported wood and $20,000 cobblestone veneers. According to a report by ABC News, after the outhouse was completed its toilets didn’t work in the winter, and the facility had running water only six months a year.

Also sure to be controversial is the administration’s proposed record $250 million increase for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The funds would allegedly allow the FWS to make major improvements in the National Wildlife Refuge System and toughen wildlife law enforcement.

Noted Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, “President Clinton is leaving a legacy of strong, healthy lands and wildlife for this and coming generations of Americans to enjoy.”

But, as reported in Environment & Climate News (see “FWS ‘slush fund’ exposed in Congressional hearings,” January 2000), the FWS has been charged with grossly mis-appropriating funds from fish and wildlife conservation programs to pet projects of the director of Fish & Wildlife, including an as-yet unexplained grant to the People’s Republic of China.

As part of the Clinton-Gore administration’s plan to “protect forests and bio-diversity around the globe,” the FY2001 budget proposes spending $150 million for a “Greening the Globe” program. Of that, $100 million would be foreign aid to help countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America preserve their forests. Another $37 million would go to relieve countries of debt owed the U.S. if they agree to forest preservation.

Livable Communities

President Clinton’s “Livable Communities” program, said to be aimed at helping communities enhance their quality of life and sustain economic growth, is allotted $9.3 billion. Of that, $6.3 billion is earmarked for light rail and other transportation systems to ease traffic congestion, while $1.6 billion is for programs that ease congestion while reducing air pollution.

Another proposal calls for $10.75 billion in federal tax credits over five years to pay the interest on bonds offered by state and local governments to help create urban parks, protect water quality, or clean up abandoned industrial sites (an increase of $1 billion over last year’s proposal). Another $125 million is for state and local grants to improve public safety through data-sharing and advanced crime-solving technologies.

The President’s budget proposes $1.3 billion in new monies for incentive measures he claims will protect water quality and wildlife habitat. Among the programs is a new Conservation Security Program to provide $600 million a year to farmers who adopt plans to curb suspected erosion and pollution runoff. A $125 million increase is proposed in the Conservation Reserve Program, by which farmers receive annual payments to take land out of production. Another $50 million is proposed to provide landowners incentives for habitat restoration, and $65 million for state and local governments to buy farmland to protect it from sprawl.

Republicans contend that farm issues should be addressed as part of the overall farm bill, not through the budget process. They also say many of the proposed programs duplicate efforts already underway and funded.

A new $50 million Great Lakes grant program would provide monies for state and local governments to restore lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Opponents counter that EPA already provides more than $1.5 billion to states to maintain clean lakes and rivers, and that the agency is not spending current monies for the Great Lakes wisely.

EPA’s own Inspector General, in his May 1999 semiannual report, wrote: “The EPA needs to improve and complete its [clean-up plans for the Lakes]. To date, no . . . plans have been fully implemented. Without these plans, there is no assurance that EPA was doing the right, most cost-effective and highest priority activities needed to protect the Great Lakes.”

Among the remaining proposed FY20001 spending initiatives are $100 million in incentive payments to the ethanol industry, to encourage expanded production of bio-based fuels, and $165 million to launch a 10-year strategy to end childhood lead poisoning by eliminating lead hazards.