Obama’s FY 2016 Budget: What’s In It for the Environment?

Fire damage to the Lewis River Canyon, Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Ken Lund)

WASHINGTON, DC, February 7, 2015 (ENS) – President Barack Obama unveiled his $3.99 trillion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016 this week, setting the stage for a showdown with the Republican-controlled Congress on funding for environmental issues such as climate change, clean water, clean power, and cleaning up abandoned mine lands.

For the first time, the President’s budget includes an entire chapter on combating climate change. The White House says it takes a “holistic approach to the challenges we face.” The 2016 budget invests in climate preparedness and resilience in three key ways:

  1. Cutting carbon pollution: The budget will help states develop a plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants and will invest billions in clean energy technology – such as solar, wind, and low-carbon fossil fuels – that will create jobs and increase energy security.
  2. Building climate resilience: To proactively reduce risk, the budget makes investments to increase the resilience of the nation’s communities and ecosystems, improve understanding of projected climate-change impacts, and assist communities in planning and preparing for climate change.
  3. Leading global efforts: The budget advances the goals of the Global Climate Change Initiative by supporting important multilateral and bilateral engagement with major and emerging economies and by contributing to the Green Climate Fund, which will help developing countries reduce carbon pollution and strengthen resilience to climate change.

Department of the Interior Budget Request

The budget allocates $13.2 billion for the Interior Department, including full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and investments in the National Park Service during its centennial year.

In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years of preserving and sharing America’s natural, cultural and historic treasures. The budget will make investments to connect a new generation to “America’s Best Idea” and to care for and maintain national parks for the next 100 years.

Fire damage to the Lewis River Canyon, Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Ken Lund)

The budget includes $859.1 million in mandatory ($300 million) and discretionary ($559.1 million) funding in 2016 to allow the National Park Service to make targeted, measurable upgrades over the next 10 years to all of its highest priority, non-transportation assets.

The budget also proposes $150 million in discretionary and mandatory funding for a Centennial Challenge matching program to leverage private donations to parks, and another $100 million for a Public Lands Centennial Fund that competitively awards funds to federal land management agencies for signature projects and programs.

“This is a forward-looking budget that invests in Interior’s key missions so that we can continue to serve the American people,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “The President’s budget provides targeted investments to grow our domestic energy portfolio, build climate resilience, and revitalize our national parks as they approach their 100th anniversary.

The Interior Department’s FY16 budget request proposes $900 million a year for programs funded from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to bolster land conservation, sportsmen’s access, and recreation across the nation, with full dedicated funding beginning in 2017.

On the 50th anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act, the budget provides full funding for LWCF programs at Interior and the Department of Agriculture. The program reinvests royalties from offshore oil and gas activities into public lands across the nation.

Starting in 2016, the budget would invest $900 million annually into conservation and recreation projects, equal to the amount of receipts deposited in the LWCF each year.

In 2016, the budget proposes a total of $400 million in discretionary funding and $500 million in mandatory funding for LWCF programs. These investments will conserve lands in or near national parks, refuges, forests and other public lands.

As manager of about 20 percent of the land area of the United States and a partner with tribal, state, local and territorial government land managers, the Interior Department works to address the challenges of a changing climate as an integral part of its mission.

Wildfire in the Everglades (Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

As part of the Administration’s effort to better understand and prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, the budget includes funding to build communities and ecosystems that are more resilient to changing stressors, including flooding, sea level rise, and drought.

The FY16 Obama budget request continues efforts to manage the sustainability and resilience of ecosystems on a landscape scale, such as the California BayDelta, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf Coast and the Arctic.

The request includes $78 million to protect and restore the American West’s imperiled sage steppe landscape, which supports wildlife and economic activity, including recreation, ranching and energy development. The funds would underpin an unprecedented federal and state collaboration to conserve the sagebrush lands from fire, invasive species, expanding development and habitat fragmentation.

But some conservationists warn that the proposed budget for FY16 includes only slight increases in overall funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the Interior Department.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed budget for endangered species is less than the government spends on a single F-35c fighter jet,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As a nation, we have to put a higher priority on recovering endangered species. The meager increases proposed this week will make no difference to the hundreds of animals and plant species with little to no funding for their recovery. This is a travesty that needs to be fixed.”

When adjusted for inflation, the proposed budget provides fewer dollars on a per-species basis than was budgeted at the start of the Obama Administration, says Greenwald.

The FY16 budget proposes $1.1 billion for research and development in the areas of resource management and climate impacts, and expand public access to this information.

The Interior budget would fund investments in the safety, reliability and efficiency of America’s water infrastructure and in conservation, reuse, and applied science to address water supply challenges, especially in the arid West.

abandoned mine
Smoke rises from a fire in an underground abandoned coal mine, Centralia, Pennsylvania (Photo by Cole Young)

To address the impacts of Abandoned Mine Lands, AML, on the health, safety, environment and economic opportunity of communities, the budget makes available $1 billion over five years to states and tribes, as part of President Obama’s POWER+ Plan. Funding would come from currently unappropriated balances of the AML Trust Fund, administered by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The AML funding would be used to target reclamation of mine land sites and associated polluted waters in a manner that promotes sustainable redevelopment in economically distressed coalfield communities. Additionally, the budget includes unprecedented investments in the health and retirement security of mineworkers and their families.

To increase safety and minimize environmental impacts of mining, Obama’s FY16 budget request proposes a fee on hardrock mining, with receipts used by states, tribes and federal agencies to restore the most hazardous sites, similar to how coal Abandoned Mine Lands funds are used. To ensure taxpayers receive a fair return from mineral development on public lands, the budget proposes a royalty on select hardrock minerals, such as silver, gold and copper. It would terminate payments to coal producing states and tribes that no longer need funds to clean up abandoned coal mines.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican representing the coal-producing state of Kentucky, called the Obama Administration “anti-coal.”

“It is cold comfort for the Obama Administration to suddenly propose easing the pain they’ve helped inflict on so many Kentucky coal families, but anything aimed at aiding these communities should be seriously considered,” said McConnell.

“Meanwhile, I will continue to offer ways to help Kentucky’s struggling communities under the Obama economy, particularly those in coal country. The best way to help these Kentuckians is to prevent anti-coal efforts in the first place, which is one reason I’ve joined the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing spending at the anti-coal EPA.”

“This Administration continues its war against Kentucky coal jobs, our miners and their families and I have vowed to do all I can do stop them. By joining the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I will help oversee the budget for the EPA,” said McConnell. “You can guarantee that I will continue to fight back against this Administration’s anti-coal jobs regulations on behalf of the Kentuckians I represent in the U.S. Senate.”

Environmental Protection Agency Budget Request

The President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency is set at $8.6 billion, about $450 million above the enacted amount for the current fiscal year.

The largest part of EPA’s FY16 budget request, $3.6 billion or 42 percent, funds the agency’s work with state and tribal partners. EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with states, tribes, and local communities.

“This budget sends a strong signal that the President is fully committed to making the investments needed to meet our mission to protect public health and the environment. The funding allows us to further our important work to combat the impacts of climate change and deliver on the President’s Climate Action Plan while improving air quality, protecting our water, executing rigorous scientific research and ensuring the public safety from toxic chemicals,” said Stan Meiburg, EPA acting deputy administrator.

power plant
Greenhouse gases rise from Santee Cooper’s Cross coal-fired power plant in South Carolina (Photo courtesy Santee Cooper)

“President Obama calls climate change one of the greatest economic and public health challenges of our time,” Meiburg said. The EPA budget request for Climate Change and Air Quality is $1.11 billion, which addresses climate impacts and the health effects of air pollution.

The proposed EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets carbon pollution standards for power plants. The President’s FY16 budget proposes a $4 billion Clean Power State Incentive Fund. EPA would administer this fund to support states that go above and beyond Clean Power Plan goals and cut additional carbon pollution from the power sector.

The FY16 EPA budget request allocates a combined $2.3 billion for the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds.

The President is asking $50 million in the EPA budget to help communities, states, and private investors finance improvements in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Of that $50 million, EPA would spend $7 million on the newly established Water Infrastructure and Resilience Finance Center, as part of the President’s Build America Initiative. This Center, which Vice President Joe Biden announced on January 16, will help identify financing opportunities for small communities, and help leverage private sector investments to improve aging local water systems.

The President is requesting $528 million to help evaluate environmental and human health impacts related to air pollution, water quality, climate change, and biofuels. Part of that funding would expand EPA’s computational toxicology effort, which is letting us study chemical risks and exposure exponentially faster and more affordably than before.

Some environmentalists are pleased with the EPA budget request. Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said, “President Obama’s budget proposal includes much-needed funding to help protect Americans from the dangers posed by climate change, and to move our country toward a clean energy future.”

“We are especially pleased to see an increase in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a new $4 billion proposal for that agency to create a Clean Power State Incentive Fund,” said Krupp.

“The Clean Power Plan, which will be finalized this summer, will assign goals for individual states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But EPA’s Clean Power State Incentive Fund would help those states that want to go beyond the targets and timelines set by the Clean Power Plan. It would provide grants to help states achieve their most ambitious plans to accelerate the deployment of clean energy and smarter, more efficient energy systems.”

“If we hope to avoid the worst damages of climate change, and to win the international race toward clean energy, we need to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “The President’s budget shows that he is serious about investing in a cleaner, safer, healthier future for all Americans.”

Department of Energy Budget Request

President Obama has requested $30 billion for the Energy Department in Fiscal Year 2016, a nine percent increase above the FY 2015 enacted level. The funds would be spent on nuclear security, addressing the environmental legacy of the Cold War, clean energy, environmental cleanup, climate change response, science and innovation.

wind farm
Moon rises over the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, California, Jan. 2009 (Photo by Chuck Coker)

The budget proposal asks Congress for a permanent extension of tax credits for the solar and wind industries. Under the current policy these tax credits would expire in 2017.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “The President’s budget request reflects the department’s commitment to promoting an all-of-the-above energy strategy that meets our economic and environmental objectives through innovative science, technology and analysis. It also reflects the President’s commitment to maintaining our strategic deterrent without testing and to reducing the danger of having nuclear materials in the wrong hands.”

“It also continues important work to protect public health and safety through the Department’s commitment to cleaning up the Cold War legacy from nuclear weapons production while also maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear weapons stockpile and advancing the President’s commitment to controlling and eliminating nuclear materials worldwide,” Moniz said.

The FY16 budget includes $8.8 billion for Weapons Activities to ensure a safe, secure, and effective nuclear stockpile, and sustain nuclear security research and development.

It includes $1.9 billion for nuclear nonproliferation activities to continue to reduce global stocks of weapons-useable nuclear materials.

$5.8 billion would go for environmental management to address the legal and moral obligations to clean up the legacy of the Cold War, including $248 million to maintain critical progress toward returning the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to normal operations, with the goal of restarting limited operations early in 2016. In February 2014 two accidents at WIPP caused shut-down of the nuclear waste facility, including one that emitted radioactivity in the facility. The State of New Mexico has fined DOE and Nuclear Waste Partnership some $17.8 million and cleanup is ongoing.

The budget includes $907.6 million for nuclear energy research and development in advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies as well as small modular reactor licensing technical support.

On another front, Secretary Moniz says the FY16 budget request would enable the transition to a “low-carbon secure energy future through the development of low-cost all-of-the-above energy technologies.”

Included are $257 million to modernize and operate the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and $5.34 billion to strengthen what Moniz calls the department’s “world-leading discovery research across the sciences.”

The budget also includes $4.8 billion for continued technological innovation to reduce cost and enhance performance, educate and train the workforce for tomorrow’s energy economy, and modernizing the U.S. energy infrastructure for the 21st century economy.

The Energy Department request includes $2.72 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to continue development of renewable generation technologies, sustainable transportation technologies, and development of manufacturing technologies and enhanced energy efficiency in homes, buildings and industries.

The FY16 budget allots $560 million for fossil energy research and development to advance carbon capture and storage and natural gas technologies.

The Energy Department is proposing crosscutting initiatives funded in various program offices and managed jointly:

Sandia researchers have worked with this single compressor “research loop” to build a closed-loop Brayton-cycle turbine that uses supercritical carbon dioxide to improve the conversion of heat to electricity in turbine generators. (Photo courtesy Sandia National Lab)

Grid Modernization: Technology development, enhanced security, and stakeholder support to enable evolution to the grid of the future ($356M).

Supercritical CO2: Establish a 10 megawatt scale pilot Supercritical Transformational Electric Power facility ($44M). Sandia National Labs has established a specialized lab to research and develop closed Brayton cycle technology for highly efficient thermal-to-electric power conversion. While this technology has generated power since 1939 using air, the testing at Sandia’s Brayton Lab uses supercritical carbon dioxide. “The potential economic and environmental benefits represent a revolutionary improvement over state-of-the-art,” Sandia officials say. Sandia is focused on commercialization by 2020.

Subsurface Engineering: Investment in new wellbore systems, seismic research, and other areas supporting a wide variety of energy sources ($244M).

Cybersecurity: Activities to strengthen the protection of DOE from cyber attacks, bolster the nation’s capabilities to address cyber threats, and improve the cybersecurity of the energy sector ($305M).

The EDF’s Krupp said, “The President’s proposed budget also includes $7.4 billion to fund clean energy technologies, and it includes a permanent extension of key tax credits for wind and solar power. These investments for clean energy technologies, grid modernization and energy efficiency represent an enormous opportunity. Investments in a resilient grid that uses the growing power of new information and communication technologies, for example, will give the American people control over their energy costs while also slashing harmful pollution and growing our economy.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2015. All rights reserved.


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