Federal climate change and environmental programs survived largely intact in the $1.2 trillion budget deal that Congressional leaders reached in their weekend huddle to keep the federal government running through September. But the future beyond then is murky.
At risk of being slashed are U.S. clean energy research, the launching of Earth-observation satellite instruments, international aid for renewable energy and many other elements of the U.S. effort on climate change. President Donald Trump has provided Congress with no detailed proposal for fiscal year 2018, which starts in just five months, beyond a bare-bones outline proposing deep budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and other government agencies engaged on climate change.
The Republican-led Congress, which has not passed a single appropriations bill by the start of any fiscal year since 2010, appears no more likely to meet that deadline under a Republican president than it was under President Barack Obama.
Federal agencies face the same budget chaos they’ve dealt with for years, with the added wild card of Trump’s plan to dramatically switch direction. Climate change programs, a top Obama administration priority, could be eviscerated under Trump, but no one yet knows whether Congress will capitulate or how far the White House will press in the bargaining over dollars and cents.
The interim budget agreement, which Trump is expected to sign this week, keeps climate-related programs in limbo. The $8 billion EPA budget marks a 1 percent cut from the previous year, and holds the agency staff to 15,000, the lowest level since 1989. In contrast, Trump’s draft FY 2018 spending outline would cut EPA spending by 31 percent and cut 3,200 positions. That would put staffing at its lowest level since 1978.
The Congressional summary of the deal noted that it contains provisions “to stop the EPA’s anti-growth agenda that includes various harmful, costly, and potentially job-killing regulations.” But the provisions don’t have immediate impact; for example, the EPA will be required to report on the backlog of mining permits awaiting approval, but it doesn’t direct the agency to approve particular permits.
The State Department’s budget under the deal includes no money for the Green Climate Fund, the international fund to help developing nations prepare for climate change. The United States has paid only $1 billion of the $3 billion it has pledged to the fund. There will be no funding for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or for two UN efforts to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels, the Strategic Climate Fund and the Clean Technology Fund.
The budget bill slightly increases the Energy Department’s budget, including $42 million in new funding for “research into the next generation of energy sources,” according to the Congressional summary.
Democrats are now hoping to build on this success in the larger fight over Trump’s first budget, which will set the nation’s direction on environment, energy and climate. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, said that although the budget deal was “imperfect,” it would “send a signal of stability and security to the American people.”
She praised the deal for preserving funding for Great Lakes protection and for “investing in cutting edge science as well as energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, for which this bill allocates $2.1 billion.”
But the core of the department’s green energy research, under its office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is reportedly being put under the control of Daniel Simmons, former vice president for policy at the fossil fuel industry-funded Institute for Energy Research and a critic of federal support for renewables.
NASA’s funding will increase 2 percent in the budget deal, and the bill includes full funding for the continuation of NOAA’s current Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program to help maintain and improve weather forecasting.
In claiming victory, Democrats pointed to the funding levels for science, as well as their success in fending off the White House effort to include funds for a Mexico border wall and to cut Planned Parenthood funding. “This is a good agreement for the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.