BUDGET:

Republicans gut EPA climate rules, slash deeply into climate research, aid and technology programs

House Republicans introduced spending legislation Friday that would strip U.S. EPA of its ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, gut the State Department's climate aid programs and slash funding for energy and climate research across the federal government.

The continuing resolution (CR), which would fund government operations through Sept. 30, seeks to trim $100 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget President Obama proposed last year. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) initially floated $32 billion in cuts but backtracked last week under pressure from lawmakers aligned with the tea party.

First on the House GOP's chopping block: U.S. EPA. The proposed CR takes direct aim at the agency and its role as the cornerstone of the Obama administration's twinned efforts to regulate CO2 emissions and boost climate change-related research.

The new bill would slash the agency's budget by $3 billion, 29 percent below the fiscal 2010 level of $10.3 billion. It would also block funds for all current and pending EPA greenhouse gas regulations on stationary sources for the remainder of the fiscal year.

And, in a dig at the White House, the bill would prevent the president from replacing departing climate and energy czar Carol Browner or creating "any substantially similar position."

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that deals with EPA, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), said the new bill's rider on greenhouse gas regulation would give the House Energy and Commerce Committee "time to craft thoughtful, effective legislation to clarify EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act and provide certainty for job creators."

Obama has said he will veto any legislation that strips EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. "Nothing has changed," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters earlier this month.

GOP leaders plan to bring the legislation to the House floor tomorrow. The current budget resolution expires March 4, leaving little time for the House and Senate to come to agreement on spending through the end of the current fiscal year.

Knives go deep into climate, carbon storage research

The bill faces a rocky reception in the upper house. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) issued a statement Friday decrying the House CR as "an ineffective approach to deficit reduction."

"The priorities identified in this proposal for some of the largest cuts -- environmental protection, healthcare, energy, science and law enforcement -- are essential to the current and future well-being of our economy and communities across the country," he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended the cuts in an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."

"Last year, these agencies got double- and triple-digit increases," he said. "They have thrown so much money at these bureaucracies that they can't even spend all the money."

Other proposed cuts to EPA include the agency's Global Change program, a research effort focused on the potential impacts of climate change. The House bill would cut $7 million from the $21 million the program received in 2010.

The new CR would also slash financing for EPA's Energy Star program $10.5 million below the 2010 level, bringing its budget to roughly $43 million.

It would strip $107 million from climate change programs under the jurisdiction of the Interior-EPA spending subcommittee, a 29 percent drop from the 2010 funding level. They include the U.S. Geological Survey's Climate Effects Network and its Science Application and biological carbon sequestration programs.

The House proposal would slash spending on land and water acquisition and conservation programs by more than $200 million compared to the 2010 funding level. The bill would also prevent the Bureau of Land Management from implementing its new "wildlands" policy, established in December by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The policy, which has been in Western Republicans' cross hairs, allows BLM to survey and provide interim protections for certain public lands that have not received a formal wilderness designation from Congress.

Climate aid cuts weaken U.S. stance

Meanwhile, among a Republican majority loath to send money overseas and largely skeptical of global warming, international climate change assistance seemed to have a double bull's-eye on its back.

The continuing resolution would gut most global climate aid, raising the prospect of significantly weakening the U.S. hand in global treaty talks.

It would zero out $500 million included in the White House's 2011 budget request for major World Bank programs that help developing nations transition to clean energy, cope with the consequences of weather disasters and protect tropical forests.

The House bill would also slash the U.S. contribution to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) from $90 million in the president's proposed 2011 budget to $32 million. The House's proposed spending schedule does not single out pots of funding for climate change within the GEF, nor does it appear to cut a program that was set up specifically to help the world's poorest nations cope with climate disasters. But those who work with the agency said a cut of that magnitude would effectively paralyze the agency's biodiversity protection and climate assistance.

Elliott Diringer, vice president for international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said the funding cuts "could seriously undermine our position in the negotiations" leading to a new global climate treaty.

"After the progress made in Cancun, pulling the plug on U.S. support for climate funding in developing countries would be a very unhelpful signal," he said. "The U.S. made progress in advancing a pragmatic international approach. Our ability to influence that process going forward will hinge heavily on being able to fulfill our pledges."

Obama had requested about $575 million for major World Bank programs that help developing nations transition to clean energy, cope with the consequences of weather disasters and protect tropical forests. The proposed GOP budget zeroes out the entire collection of funds.

The prospect of losing that money could create an unlikely alliance between the World Bank and the environmental community. Green groups fought the creation of the World Bank's Clean Technology Fund and other projects, and have long tried to block the institution's entry into the business of addressing climate change because of its history of funding fossil fuel.

But Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he believes the World Bank is "moving in the right direction" in phasing out coal lending and argued that pulling out of clean energy deployment is the wrong direction for the United States.

The Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), the umbrella term the World Bank uses to describe several different programs, have helped launch low-emission and climate resilience projects in 45 countries. The Clean Technology Fund, which is the largest program of the group, has directed $2.4 billion to Algeria, Mexico, Thailand and nearly 20 other countries to finance an estimated 4,255 megawatts of clean energy that could scale up to 39,200 megawatts.

Schmidt said the money also helps create American jobs. "The [World Bank funds] very directly helps the U.S.," he said, adding that by defunding them, "we would miss this opportunity to help create clean technology throughout the world and help U.S. companies tap into that."

"The innovative climate investment funds are a shift from the old model because they harness the private sector to bring technology solutions for improved transport, cleaner energy, more resilient agricultural yields, such as in Africa, and a host of other global benefits," said Andrew Steer, World Bank special envoy for climate change.

"Because of the way the CIFs are designed, grant funds can attract a lot of private investors, so the impact of the initial funds are multiplied -- on average, tenfold," Steer said. "With a growing number of developing countries also now putting their own resources into programs, the CIFs are great value for money," he said. "They are simply changing the way we do business on climate change."

The fate of other global climate funding remains vague. The U.S. Agency for International Development would take a major haircut, but none of the substantial funding in there for climate change programs is singled out.

Clean technology research and innovation targeted

GOP lawmakers also proposed whittling the Energy Department's budget, in a clear shot at the White House's plan to encourage economic growth by funding the development of new energy technologies.

The Energy Department's Office of Science would see a cut of $893.2 million below the 2010 spending level of $4.9 billion. Obama had requested $5.1 billion for the office in 2011.

The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program would take a $900 million cut, relative to the White House's $2.3 billion request last year. Republicans haven't yet specified which sub-programs they will trim. The EERE office does applied research from wind and solar power to buildings, biofuels, electric cars and fuel cells.

EERE and the science office would take an additional hit because the new bill would strip agencies of any remaining stimulus funding. EERE has more than $10 billion in such funds and the Office of Science $800 million, according to Appropriations Committee Republicans.

The House package would also slash funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a DOE office looking for breakthrough energy technologies. Last year, the White House requested $300 million for ARPA-E, a crown jewel of its energy strategy. Republicans want to chop that by $250 million.

Other DOE divisions escaped with smaller cuts. Obama requested $760 million for the Fossil Energy office last year, a number Republicans intend to cut by only $66 million. The president requested $824 million for the Nuclear Energy program last year, and Republicans want to trim $169 million.

NOAA and NASA climate-related science hit

The House bill would also cut spending at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, two agencies that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have targeted in recent years for budget increases.

NOAA and NASA were also major beneficiaries of the 2009 economic stimulus package, receiving a collective $1.8 billion largely targeted for climate satellites and science programs.

The House proposal would reverse some of those gains. NOAA's budget would fall to $4.3 billion from approximately $4.7 billion in 2010 -- well below the White House's proposed 2011 budget of $5.5 billion.

The GOP plan would cut the agency's operations, research and facilities account by $454.3 million, to $2.85 billion, 13 percent below the 2010 level and roughly in line with the amount allocated in 2008.

NOAA's procurement, acquisition and construction (PAC) account would receive $1.46 billion, a 7 percent increase over the 2010 level of $1.36 billion -- though more than 30 percent below the White House's proposed 2011 funding level of $2.18 billion.

The increase in PAC funds is likely explained by House appropriators' decision to make allowances for NOAA's weather satellites, including "necessary funding increases ... that will help protect Americans from weather-related natural disasters." The majority of NOAA's satellite funding is distributed through the procurement, acquisition and construction account.

Regardless of House Republicans' new budget bill, Congress' failure to pass a 2011 spending plan has already delayed one NOAA weather and climate satellite program, Spaceflight Now reported last week.

The Obama administration established the Joint Polar Satellite System last year, after it decided to end a troubled joint satellite venture between NOAA and the Air Force. Although JPSS was formed out of elements of that defunct program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, it was considered a new program for budget purposes.

As such, it has not been fully funded by the series of continuing resolutions that have allowed the government to operate since October. That has delayed the launch of the first JPSS satellite by two years, Spaceflight Now reported.

Space travel, yes; high-speed rail programs, no

The House GOP plan would cut NASA's budget by $303 million below the 2010 funding level, a 2 percent drop, and $578.7 million below Obama's request for fiscal 2011, a 3 percent drop.

Obama's last budget request sought to increase funding for NASA's science directorate by more than $500 million, including $65.6 million for Earth science aimed at reversing Bush-era cuts to the space agency's climate and environment programs.

Now some House Republicans are seeking to eliminate NASA's climate change activities, arguing that in a constrained budget year, the agency should narrow its attention to human space exploration.

"For years, Presidents and Congress have charged NASA with completing tasks that fall outside the scope of NASA's primary mission," a group of GOP lawmakers wrote in letter last week to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

"Specifically, NASA spent over 7.5 percent -- over a billion dollars -- of its budget on studying global warming/climate change in fiscal year 2010. In addition, the lion share of the stimulus funds that NASA received went toward climate change studies."

Signing the letter were Republican Reps. Sandy Adams and Bill Posey (Fla.), Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Mo Brooks (Ala.) and Pete Olson (Texas).

The House CR would also:

  • Zero the budget for the Transportation Department's office of National Infrastructure Investments, which received $600 million in 2010. It would also slash $1 billion from the amount Obama requested for the Federal Railroad Administration's high-speed rail program last year.
  • Rescind $2.47 billion from another of Obama's signature programs, DOT's Capital Assistance for High Speed Rail Corridors, which received $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
  • Cut the Federal Transit Administration's main grant program, which helps local governments replace and upgrade their bus and rail systems, by $253 million compared to the president's 2011 budget request.
  • Trim the National Science Foundation's budget by 5 percent relative to 2010, a reduction of $359.5 million. That would wipe out the 8 percent budget increase Obama proposed for the agency in fiscal 2011, cutting NSF's purse by 12 percent below last year's White House budget request.
  • Cut the budget of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, now beginning work on the third national assessment of climate change impacts, by $500,000 below the $7 million enacted in 2010 and requested by the president for 2011.