Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is interviewed by Norah O’Donnell for CBS Evening News on March 31, 2021. (Courtesy of Interior Department/CC BY-SA 2.0)
President Joe Biden’s first budget request laid out on Friday reflects the administration’s commitments to advancing conservation and combating climate change, proposing new money across federal agencies to address those issues.
Like most domestic programs in Biden’s overall $1.5 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2022, the recommendations for increased spending on conservation and climate goals are a dramatic turnaround following four years of cutbacks during the Trump administration.
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The administration is requesting $17.4 billion for the Interior Department, a $2.4 billion increase from what’s now in effect for the current budget year, which is fiscal 2021. The proposed 16% increase is in line with the overall increase the administration is asking for all non-defense discretionary programs.
Interior would also see $1.7 billion for high-priority hazardous fuels and forest fire resilience programs, a nearly $500 million boost from fiscal 2021.
A news release from the Interior Department highlighted the request’s proposed increases for tribal programs.
“President Biden’s funding request provides much-needed resources to Tribal Nations, prioritizes racial justice and equity, and invests in healthy lands, waters, and a clean energy economy that will create good-paying jobs,” Interior Secretary Debra Haaland said in a written statement.
The request calls for $4 billion for tribal programs, a roughly 17% increase from fiscal 2021, to be used for tribal schools, law enforcement and clean energy development. It would increase funding for climate mitigation, resilience and environmental justice programs in Native American communities by $450 million.
The funding would “strengthen self-determination and self-governance programs to bolster Tribal sovereignty,” the Interior release said.
Friday’s document is a preliminary budget from the administration, which is usual in a new presidency. A more detailed budget plan, which will include revenue estimates, is expected later this spring.
Congress never adopts a presidential budget request in its entirety, but Biden’s is more likely to succeed at least in part in a Congress controlled by Democrats.
Climate goals across the government
Friday’s request reflects the administration’s prioritization of climate change and its whole-of-government approach to addressing it.
The administration requested a $14 billion increase for “major new climate” spending “across nearly every agency.” The word “climate” appears 151 times in the 61-page document.
Several federal departments would see additional funding for climate science and research. The administration asked for $4 billion “to fund a broad portfolio of research across multiple agencies.” It would spend $1 billion to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate and in the existing Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to fund clean energy and climate resilience research.
As part of its climate agenda, the administration has pledged to protect 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030. The request offers few new details on that initiative.
It calls for “significant investment” for conservation efforts on public and private lands through the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, both agencies within the Department of Agriculture. Part of the funding “would encourage voluntary conservation across the Nation’s forests, farms, and ranches, while allowing land owners to continue to work their land,” the request says.
The administration didn’t provide details on how it would encourage voluntary conservation on private lands.
Sarah Greenberger, the senior vice president for conservation policy at the conservation and bird advocacy group National Audubon Society, said the USDA could help farmers and ranchers adopt best practices and provide financial assistance.
The proposal would provide $6.5 billion in lending for “additional clean energy, energy storage, and transmission projects in rural communities.”
In addition to climate action, several sections of the request refer to environmental justice, and programs to address the disproportionate impacts of pollution and climate change on disadvantaged communities.
Abandoned wells, displaced workers
Parts of the request mirrors items in the administration’s infrastructure and jobs agenda it laid out last week, though at lower spending levels.
The Interior section includes $550 million to cap orphaned oil and gas wells and reclaim abandoned mineral mines. That figure is more than triple the fiscal 2021 funding, but below the average yearly target for such efforts that the administration laid out in its proposed infrastructure and jobs legislation last week.
The infrastructure framework calls for $16 billion over 10 years for abandoned wells and mines cleanup. Friday’s request is intended to be seen as a separate but complementary document, an administration official said Friday.
The request also calls for funding a new Civilian Climate Corps, another item in the infrastructure proposal. Friday’s request asked for $200 million for Interior programs that promote science-driven conservation, including for the new jobs program. The infrastructure proposal asked for about $1 billion per year for the Civilian Climate Corps alone.
The lower annual spending levels in the budget request likely reflect that the proposals would grow over time, not that the administration was lowering its spending goals.
The request would fund a new multiagency program to help displaced workers in the oil and gas industry transition to jobs in cleaner forms of energy.
Greenberger praised the request’s focus on economic factors as part of its approach to climate.
“The budget is a demonstration of commitment to conservation, to climate action — which obviously we care deeply about — but also to people,” Greenberger said. “For conservation to be successful, communities need to be successful.”
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