Environment

Government Spending Bill Does Little to Help Environment

The EPA was not destroyed, but neither was it saved. This budget bill will still take our country in the wrong direction.

EPA workers and supporters protest job cuts at a rally in Chicago in March 2017.
Photo Credit: John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock

There is nothing like the threat of a government shut-down to force serious compromise. Monday’s spending bill does not include many of the most controversial issues that might have lead the left or the right to fall on their swords. Progressives can be happy that Planned Parenthood was spared and that Sanctuary Cities will not be defunded.

These victories are essential and should be celebrated, but the overall picture is still grim. The budget bill allocates a huge sum for defense spending and includes funding for the first step of construction of a border wall. The EPA was not destroyed, but neither was it saved. This budget bill will still take our country in the wrong direction.

The bill includes a one percent cut to the EPA, rejecting the dramatic 31 percent cuts that Trump proposed earlier. This means that the agency will be spared from massive, immediate layoffs. However, EPA’s budgets have already been slashed to the bone. When adjusted for inflation, last year’s budget, for example, was the lowest it has been in 20 years.

All you have to do it ask the residents of Flint, Michigan what ever-decreasing levels of environmental protection means for safe water and their health. Residents in Flint were unaware as they drank water contaminated by lead for years. And even today, they are still being told to drink bottled water. Almost half of the EPA’s spending is for clean water and every year millions of Americans already get water from operators who skipped required tests or did not conduct the tests properly. A one percent cut to the EPA means we are not improving so the prospects for the environment look merely grim, not alarmingly catastrophic.

And although this was a “clean” bill for the most part, free of many anti-environmental riders, there were a couple of notable exceptions. In particular, there is a provision that calls for biomass policies that reflect "the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy." Biomass is problem. It is not carbon neutral and will never be a solution to climate change. Pretending otherwise is bowing down to the timber industry. The inclusion of this rider is a significant setback for the integrity of science in climate change research.

Military spending is up far more than increases on other spending priorities. When we were in the throes of a Congressional budget battle during “the sequester,” the rules of the game were that military spending went up and down at the same rate other spending priorities went up down. That’s clearly no longer the case and now the precedent has been set that military spending comes before human needs.

Environmental spending is still at historic lows, at a time when problems like climate change are worsening. Anti-environmental riders are still sneaking into must-pass spending bills, demonstrating that polluters still have sway over our elected officials.

And even if there is technically no money for a wall, the budget advances some of the most racist parts of Trump’s agenda, laying the groundwork to fortify and militarize our border.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse. But let’s not accept as victory small cuts to an emaciated EPA, rather than almost unimaginable levels of destruction. Let’s fight harder.

Ben Schreiber is the Senior Political Strategist at Friends of the Earth.

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