Monday, March 14, 2011
A recent slate of reports have highlighted Congressional efforts to curb spending on environmental matters in order to prevent further deterioration of the economy. A House subcommittee recently voted to block EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, asserting that such authority would drive up energy costs and ship jobs overseas. Leadership in the House recently proposed cutting $1.2 billion (21 percent) out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellite program budget - a program used for hurricane and weather tracking. NOAA head Jane Lubchenco recently stated that this action would cause NOAA to "inevitably have a gap" in storm tracking and warning capacity. Paper and chemical industries have called on Congress to assess the cost of regulatory oversight, claiming that duplicative and burdensome regulation should be eliminated to avoid a loss of competitive advantage and preserve jobs in those industries. Congress has even taken aim at light bulbs, calling for a repeal of legislation mandating the use of more efficient bulbs. These are just a few of the many legislative proposals coming out of Congress that cut funding for environmental protection (for others, see "Losing the Future: House Republican Budget Cuts Would Strangle Innovation").
Current levels of Congressional spending are unprecedented and unsustainable. For environmentalists, who focus on sustainability of natural resources, it would seem quite consistent to express similar concern over the sustainability of the economic system that gives us the luxury to protect the environment in the first instance. Yet when high government spending and economic downturn overlap, difficult choices arise over which environmental protections to maintain. Spending on environmental protection may very well be duplicative and inefficient in some cases, such as when special interests procure wasteful subsidies - money that would be better allocated elsewhere. And often the parties complaining about environmental protection expenditures actually add to those expenditures, by increasing administrative costs through continual judicial challenges to environmental regulations. Perhaps of greater concern is the fact that an economic downturn allows the evisceration of appropriately allocated environmental protection resources under the guise of legitimate concerns over government spending. So, how can we use a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer? How can we preserve legitimate environmental protection interests while recognizing the need to move toward an economic policy that acts in a more fiscally responsible manner? Is it too much spending or rather too much inefficient spending? Where do environmental priorities rank when deciding where to tighten the belt?
- Blake Hudson