President Obama challenged congressional and industry critics on Monday to consider the stunning costs of delaying measures to combat carbon emissions as he outlined his budget initiatives for handling climate change,.
Over the past 10 years, the federal government has racked up over $300 billion in costs for responding to extreme weather events, floods, droughts and wildfires, according to the president’s 2016 budget plan. The costs included emergency responses and disaster assistance, as well as the amount the federal government spends to subsidize federal flood insurance, crop insurance and related health care.
Weather models also demonstrate that climate-driven changes, such as higher sea levels and hurricane activity changes, may magnify this problem, the administration warned. Unabated climate change could diminish the global economy by more than four percent a year by 2100, the administration says – with potential losses in the U.S. of at least $120 billion a year.
Alarmed by these trends, Obama is trying to bolster resources for his global warming initiatives by hiking funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to slash industrial carbon emissions and beef up Energy Department spending to encourage the development of cleaner, alternative energy sources.
He’s also backing a United Nations climate fund, promoting clean energy and energy-efficiency programs, and calling for tighter regulations of oil and gas drilling, even as the administration moved late last month to open up a vast stretch of East Coast waters to oil and gas drilling.
The president’s new budget would boost EPA spending by six percent next year, from $8.1 billion to $8.6 billion, while raising spending for the Energy Department by 10 percent – from $27.3 billion to $29.6 billion.
“What we’ve done for the first time is very specifically quantify as much as possible what we have seen over a number of years [on climate change costs],” White House budget director Shaun Donovan told the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday morning. “The basic analysis is that it is foolish for us not to act and take further steps to reduce climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to prepare our communities for the more extreme weather we’re seeing.”
The additional EPA funding would support efforts on tough federal standards, guidelines and voluntary programs, including $25 million to assist states to develop their own clean power plans. Obama would also offer $4 million to states that exceed the minimum requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan.
Those initiatives might include, for example, efforts to address disproportionate impacts of pollution on residents of low-income communities, or support for businesses to expand efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The Obama proposal also includes additional spending on so-called “Climate Resilience and Preparedness” efforts, such as $184 million more for National Flood Insurance Program Risk Mapping, more spending for regional coastal planning, and greater preparedness for droughts and wildfires.
Internationally, the president would provide $1.29 billion – a significant increase from this year’s level – to advance the goals of the Global Climate Change Initiative by supporting multilateral and bilateral engagement with major and emerging economies.
Last year, Obama struck important climate change agreements with China and India – which along with the U.S. emit the most greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The State Department and White House are looking to a major global warming conference in Paris later this year as the likely setting of a new international agreement to reduce or slow the growth of carbon emissions.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” Obama said in his budget statement. “The significant costs to inaction on climate change hit the federal government’s bottom-line directly, as worsening climate impacts create government liabilities.”
The proposals are encountering stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who now fully control Congress have long battled EPA regulations for reducing carbon emissions that they say will drive utilities out of business, seriously harm the coal industry, and dramatically raise the cost of fuel and electricity to consumers. Some industry groups also denounced the president’s proposed tax increase for the oil and gas industry.
The budget proposes to increase royalty fees for fossil fuel projects on public lands to raise a projected $2.5 billion over the next 10 years. About $10 million of that would go to fund greater oversight and regulation of oil and gas sites on federal lands and in federal waters.
The budget plan would also wipe out an estimated $44 billion of energy industry tax breaks over the coming decade.
“The president’s annual call to raise taxes on U.S. oil and natural gas development would hurt job creation, infrastructure investment, the federal deficit, seniors on fixed incomes and domestic manufacturing,” Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. “Tax increases would jeopardize America’s competitiveness as it would discourage future investment.”
Environmental groups, not unexpectedly, hailed the president’s new budget plans.
“This budget clearly shows President Obama is making action on the climate crisis a top goal of his administration over the next year,” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. “This proposal recognizes the obligation we have to act on climate and the opportunity that arises as we do.”
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