What Will the Budget Proposals Mean for Green?

By Nikki Broderick ’14Staff Writer

Since the near government shut down earlier this month, Democrats and Republicans alike have taken sides in the fiscal debate concerning the enormous U.S. deficit. First-year Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (R), an unlikely candidate, offered a plan for financial reform. His plan, “A Path to Prosperity,” has inspired nationwide protest due to its calls for extreme cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. President Obama also offered a budget proposal, calling for spending cuts such as the end to Bush-era tax cuts for families earning over $250,000, in order to decrease the trillion dollars of U.S. debt.

While some of the repercussions for the two different plans are obvious—President Obama’s plan caters to liberals in favor of taxation while Congressman Ryan’s proposal appeals to Republicans desiring less government involvement—the effects of the both on the green movement are mostly unknown. The reason for government spending’s seeming lack of concern toward the green initiative stems largely from the belief that there are more important issues to worry about in the economy, such as job creation, education, the mortgage crisis and social services. Essentially, funding that the government has slashed at every given opportunity.

Attempting to take a closer look at the budget proposals’ consequences for the green movement proved more difficult than I had originally anticipated. Most news coverage focused on the most controversial issues that the budgets proposed, with Medicare, Medicaid and tax cuts for the rich competing for headlines. Only after actually scanning the budget proposals, searching for any mention of the Departments of Energy or Interior, did I find some of the densest charts of fiscal management that I—and probably many Americans—have ever seen.

President Obama’s summary tables cut surprisingly little of the money toward the green movement. In fact, government funding for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy are actually set to increase by 2019, going from $12.1 billion to $12.9 billion for the former and $16.6 billion to $20.9 billion for the latter. The only cut toward the environment seems to be a decrease in the Environmental Protection Agency from $10.3 billion dollars to $9.6 billion dollars.

Congressman Ryan’s summary chart tables seem at first to break down spending into larger categories—Security, Global War on Terror, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.—while grouping much of the budget into a slightly confusing category labeled “Other Mandatory.”  One of the last charts, however, shows that his goal for “Natural Resources and Environment” plans to reduce spending from $40 billion dollars to $26 billion by 2021, a 35 percent decrease in funding. He also plans to cut financial support from $7 billion down to $1 billion in a slightly ambiguous category simply labeled “Energy.” Looking more closely at the fine print from Ryan’s plan—curiously, in the “Eliminating welfare for energy companies” section—I found that he states that spending cuts are best in the “non-core functions,” meaning that green initiative “development projects [are best] left to the financial sector.” Most of his irritatingly long sentences are difficult to dissect, but what I can gather from Congressman Ryan’s proposal is that the private sector should take charge of green development.

In order for private companies to change their development toward more sustainability, they need incentives. And most incentives are provided by the government. Unless companies have a reason to stop using the Earth’s finite resources for their own capitalistic gain, they will not change their ways. Changing the status quo means waiting years, possibly decades, for a turnover in profits, something most companies can’t afford in the current economic climate. I don’t believe that the federal government should completely fund the green movement, but without its help, how will the private sector begin?

President Obama’s Budget Proposal:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/tables.pdf

Congressman Ryan’s Budget Proposal:

http://paulryan.house.gov/UploadedFiles/PathToProsperityFY2012.pdf