The recently released Senate and House budget resolutions for fiscal year 2014 reflect diametrically opposed visions of American’s energy and climate futures. The Senate budget invests in clean energy technologies that reduce carbon pollution responsible for climate change. The House budget, on the other hand, ignores climate change and defunds clean energy technologies.
The proposed Senate budget resolution—“Foundation for Growth: Restoring the Promise of American Opportunity,” authored by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA)—would boost the United States into the 21st century by investing in the clean energy industry, which will be a $1.9 trillion market from 2012 through 2018. In addition, the Senate resolution would attack the carbon pollution that is responsible for climate change.
Michael Linden, Director for Tax and Budget Policy at the Center for American Progress, noted that Sen. Murray’s overall budget “would promote immediate job creation, lay the foundations for future broad-based growth, and responsibly pursue deficit reduction.” The Murray budget’s funding proposals would also help address the fundamental challenges of clean energy development and slow climate change.
Meanwhile, the House budget resolution—“The Path to Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget,” written by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI)—would continue investment in the dirty fossil fuels of the past while disinvesting in clean energy. And it ignores the looming disruptive and expensive threat of climate change.
Reducing oil dependence and carbon pollution from transportation
Traffic congestion in the United States, partly due to damaged roads and inadequate access to public transit, wastes 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline annually, or nearly 196,000 barrels of oil per day, according to the latest Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute. The study also estimated that “additional carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions attributed to traffic congestion: 56 billion pounds—about 380 pounds per auto commuter.”
Sen. Murray’s budget would eliminate some of this oil waste and carbon pollution by investing $50 billion in “repairing our nation’s highest priority deteriorating transportation infrastructure … [including] fixing crumbling roads, bridges … [and] updating our mass transit.” Her budget would also provide “$10 billion to create an infrastructure bank that will leverage investment from the private sector” for additional road and transit projects.
Conversely, the Ryan budget would increase oil use and carbon pollution by slashing investments in transportation below current levels.
Fighting climate change and investing in clean energy technology
The Congressional Progressive Caucus wrote its own pro-growth budget, which includes a tax on carbon pollution to generate revenue while cutting pollution. Although the Senate budget resolution does not include this bold but politically challenging proposal, the Senate budget would reduce some carbon pollution by investing heavily in the research, development, and deployment of no- and low-pollution clean energy technologies. The Senate resolution would also “fund programs that make homes and offices more energy efficient,” which would achieve some cost-effective pollution reductions.
The Ryan budget ignores the looming threat of climate change, however, attacks the Obama administration for enforcement of the Clean Air Act as mandated by the Supreme Court. Rep. Ryan’s budget could actually increase climate change pollution by eliminating investments in “applied and commercial research and development projects,” which could develop or nurture emerging clean energy technologies that could replace dirty, outdated high-carbon pollution technologies. This would in turn harm American competitiveness in the burgeoning worldwide clean energy market.
Rep. Ryan claims that his budget “will restore fairness” in energy investments after President Barack Obama boosted new, clean energy technologies. But this ignores the fact that the playing field has been heavily tilted in favor of investments in oil-and-gas production over the past 100 years. A DBL Investors analysis, “What Would Jefferson Do?”, determined that the oil-and-gas industry received $442 billion in tax breaks and subsidies over the past 90 years, while renewable energy received only $5.6 billion over the past 15 years. This amounts to $80 invested in oil and gas production for every $1 invested in renewable electricity.
In addition, the Ryan budget would increase carbon pollution by approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would facilitate the production of millions of barrels of tar sands oil, which yields up to 80 percent more carbon pollution during its production—well to tank—than conventional oil. Keystone won’t relieve unemployment—it would create only 35 permanent jobs. And The New York Times notes that the Canadian tar sands oil would travel via pipeline “to refineries on the Gulf Coast. From there, most of the fuel would be sent abroad.”
Building community resilience to climate-related extreme weather
CAP’s recent analysis titled “Going to Extremes” measured the human and economic toll from climate-related extreme weather in 2011 and 2012. Based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data, CAP calculated that the United States experienced 25 storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires over those two years that each caused at least $1 billion in damage, with a total price tag of up to $188 billion—and 1,107 fatalities.
The Murray budget addresses the growing threat from the effects of unchecked climate change by “robustly funding activities that will help us accurately predict weather patterns and extreme weather events,” and “investing in federal resiliency activities that will help communities across the country prepare for extreme weather events.”
In addition, the Murray budget would invest in safe drinking water and sewage treatment infrastructure, which would improve the resilience of facilities that perform these two vital functions to floods, storms, drought, and other severe weather events. The budget would also invest in our essential electricity infrastructure “to increase redundancy and resiliency in the system.”
The revenue to help communities become more resilient from extreme weather generally comes from the domestic discretionary budget. Yet the House Democratic Budget Committee reports that under the Ryan budget, “nondefense discretionary spending … is cut by more than twice as much as it would be cut if the sequester went into effect and stayed in effect for ten years.”
Such huge cuts would significantly reduce investments in infrastructure rehabilitation and repair, making communities vulnerable to more severe and/or frequent floods, storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires linked to climate change.
Ending corporate tax loopholes
The Murray budget does not explicitly require the elimination of billions of dollars in special tax breaks for Big Oil companies. But it does call for ending loopholes for “corporations who need them the least” and “companies reporting record-breaking profits.” This is an implicit recommendation to the Senate Finance Committee, because the five largest oil companies—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—made a combined profit of $255 billion in 2011 and 2012. Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and BP were the second-, third-, fourth-, and seventh-most profitable corporations in the world in 2012, respectively, according to Fortune magazine.
As with his past budgets, however, Rep. Ryan’s FY 2014 budget appears to keep a decade’s worth of tax breaks worth $40 billion for the oil-and-gas industry. Even more astounding, the budget would give the five largest oil companies an additional multibillion-dollar tax cut by slashing the corporate income tax rate by one-third.
Protecting vital lands owned by all Americans
The Senate budget would continue critical investments to protect our national parks, monuments, and other special places. It increases funds for land-management agencies to fight wildfires, restore forests, and keep national parks open. Right now, sequester cuts have forced a number of national parks such as Yellowstone to open later and cut the number of staff due. The Senate budget also fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses receipts from offshore drilling to safeguard new public lands that deserve protection.
The Ryan budget, however, would slash funding for the protection of natural resources and “sell millions of acres of unneeded federal land.” This latter provision in the Ryan budget essentially assumes the passage of the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, H.R. 1126, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in the previous Congress. This radical bill would force the federal government to sell 3.3 million acres of public lands to private companies in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. These places support multiple uses, including hunting, fishing, and recreation.
The Senate and House budget proposals have many differences—particularly in their energy plans. Sen. Murray’s budget would reduce our nation’s oil dependence while investing in the clean energy technologies of the future, all of which will create jobs. Rep. Ryan’s budget, however, would increase our nation’s oil dependence while ceding the world clean energy market to China, Germany, and other competitors. And his plan would cost American jobs, too. There is only one choice that enhances our future.
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. The author would like to thank Richard Caperton, Managing Director of Energy, and Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, both at the Center.
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Daniel J. Weiss