Obama budget digs in on climate, energy priorities

By Robin Bravender | 02/02/2015 01:45 PM EST

President Obama’s new spending wish list underscores his plans to plow ahead with ambitious and costly climate, energy and infrastructure policies — and sets the stage for another year of fierce budget battles with congressional Republicans.

President Obama’s new spending wish list underscores his plans to plow ahead with ambitious and costly climate, energy and infrastructure policies — and sets the stage for another year of fierce budget battles with congressional Republicans.

Tucked into Obama’s nearly $4 trillion request to fund the federal government in fiscal 2016 are a $4 billion fund to prod states to cut power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions, a proposal to funnel $7.4 billion toward clean energy investments and a plan to shell out nearly $500 billion over six years on infrastructure projects.

Obama’s wish list has already come under attack by his critics on Capitol Hill and will likely bear little resemblance to spending legislation that ultimately emerges from the GOP-led Congress. But it serves as an opening salvo for this year’s spending fight and signals how Obama plans to dig in on climate and energy issues during his last two years in office.


"No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," Obama told Congress in today’s budget request, echoing forceful comments he made during his State of the Union address last month.

"[T]his budget takes action on climate by supporting the Climate Action Plan that I released in 2013 with investments to accelerate carbon pollution reductions, to build on-the-ground partnerships with local communities and help them put in place strategies for greater resilience to climate change impacts, and to support America’s leadership abroad on this important moral and fiscal issue," Obama said.

The president’s plans to funnel cash toward his top priorities while raising new tax revenues and to blow through spending caps known as "sequestration" instantly came under fire from Republican leaders in Congress.

"Today President Obama laid out a plan for more taxes, more spending, and more of the Washington gridlock that has failed middle-class families. It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today in a statement.

"While the president’s budget is about the past, our budget will be about the future," Boehner said. "We will address our government’s spending problem and protect our national security. Our budget will balance, and it will help promote job creation and higher wages, not more government bureaucracy."

Obama, however, said he plans to work with Congress to replace "mindless austerity" with "smart investments that strengthen America." Speaking this morning at the Department of Homeland Security, Obama added, "I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward."

Climate, energy cash central to Obama agenda

The investments rolled out today include asking Congress to invest in a host of new and ongoing programs to slash greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

In a proposed "Clean Power State Incentive Fund," Obama pledged to build on the administration’s forthcoming rule to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. If that rule is finalized in a way that’s similar to U.S. EPA’s proposal, the White House said, states could qualify for cash from the new fund to "go above and beyond" EPA’s guidelines.

Obama’s budget would also offer $7.4 billion for programs to "stimulate the evolution and use of clean energy technologies" at the Energy Department and other agencies, the White House said.

And the administration is calling for the permanent extension of tax incentives for wind and solar technologies, as well as credits for advanced vehicles and efficient buildings. The budget requests would also provide $100 million for permitting renewable energy projects on federal lands and waters.

The White House is also requesting cash for programs to prepare for the effects of climate change both domestically and abroad.

That includes $400 million for a National Flood Insurance Program effort to map flood risks and $200 million for Agriculture Department efforts to help communities prepare for extreme weather events.

The budget also prioritized programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Interior Department and USDA aimed at boosting resilience to coastal flooding and droughts. And a $9 million increase to NOAA would aim to improve the agency’s expertise in providing extreme weather outlooks three to four weeks in advance.

Obama’s budget would fund the new Green Climate Fund — a United Nations mechanism to help developing countries cut emissions and improve their resilience to the impacts of climate change — at $500 million. "By reducing the most catastrophic risks of climate change, the GCF will help promote smart, sustainable long-term economic growth and preserve stability and security in fragile regions of strategic importance to the United States," the White House said of that proposal.

The White House also included a massive $478 billion proposal for a six-year surface transportation reauthorization plan. That plan would repair existing infrastructure while making new investments in highways, transit and rail systems across the country, the White House said. The revenue for those investments would come from corporate tax reform, the White House said (E&E Daily, Feb. 2).

Click here for a fact sheet on Obama’s energy and climate budget priorities.