As President Joe Biden prepares to release his Fiscal Year 2023 budget request, a close look at last week’s $1.5 trillion omnibus bill shows how spending in the upcoming plan may be justified (or rationalized) by appeals to climate change.
The bill passed both the House and the Senate with support from some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Biden signed it into law on March 15.
First, the big picture: with inflation raging at its highest level in 40 years, the omnibus boosted spending relative to 2021 across all 12 appropriations, as summarized by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget (CFRB).
Some of that spending is tucked away under Division G of the bill (Interior-Environment). It alone received at least $36.1 billion according to the CFRB, up 5.3 percent from the previous year.
Under Division G, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), now led by accused eco-terrorist Tracy Stone-Manning, got $1.41 billion, up $101 million.
On a webpage describing its budget, BLM lays the greatest stress on “strengthen[ing] climate resilience” as well as developing renewable energy on public lands, also in the name of climate change.
Unsurprisingly, its 2022 “Budget Justifications” mentions the word “climate” 221 times.
Yet a narrow focus on BLM, or even just Division G, would overlook billions in climate-related funding scattered across the omnibus’s other 11 divisions.
Here’s a highlight reel, courtesy of the House Appropriations Committee, and cross-referenced with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version. (A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee confirmed that the items in the summary were all in the finalized version of the bill signed into law.)
Under Division A (Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture gets $78.3 million “to address the impacts of climate change.” This money, per the committee’s summary, “confronts the climate crisis.”
Under Division B (Commerce-Justice-Science, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gets $200 million for climate research, up $18 million from 2021. NOAA also gets $6 million for offshore wind farm support.
Additionally, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) receives $7.6 billion for its Science Mission Directorate, up $313.4 million, in part “to enable better scientific information about the Earth and its changing climate.”
NASA also gets $880.7 million for aeronautics research “to continue efforts to improve the environmental sustainability of space travel through increased fuel efficiency and electric flight.”
Finally, and still under Division B, the National Science Foundation is budgeted $8.84 billion, up $351 million. The appropriations committee’s summary states NSF is one of three agencies under the title, alongside NOAA and NASA, receiving research- or resilience-related funding that “confronts the climate crisis.”
Division C (Defense) also “confronts the climate crisis,” at least according to the House Appropriations Committee.
For one thing, by getting $120 million in new funding for “climate infrastructure programs.”
Incidentally, climate change is not the only politically salient change covered by Division C—$1 million goes to “the renaming of installations, facilities, roads and streets that bear the name of Confederate leaders and officers,” and $8.6 million is spent on “gender advisor programs.”
Continuing a theme, Division D (Energy & Water Development) also “confronts the climate crisis,” this time through $14 billion for what the committee describes as “transformational investments in clean energy and science.”
The reported effects of climate change on storm intensity and frequency help justify $500 million for loans to non-federal water infrastructure by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Division G (Interior-Environment) gets the aforementioned $1.41 billion for BLM and billions more for programs that, in some way, shape, or form, appeal to climate or the environment to help justify their existence.
Notably, the division budgets $100 million for “environmental justice,” up $83 million from $17 million.
Under Division J (Military Construction and Veterans Affairs), $120 million goes to “Climate Change and Resiliency projects,” another massive increase at $106 million more than in 2021.
The Senate’s summary of the bill notes $469 would go to the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP), $183 million more than was requested.
Division K (State and Foreign Operations) advises that fully $1.5 billion be allocated “to address the Climate Crisis [sic] and other environmental issues.”
Last but not least, there’s Division L (Transportation-Housing and Urban Development). Its budget includes what the committee summary describes as “robust increases for Research and Technology to expand on ways to create more equitable access to transportation systems, combat climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
No clear total for those “robust increases” was evident in the committee’s summary, but the division gets $81 billion as a whole, up $6.4 billion.
Here and there across the full, 1,068-page version of the bill on Congress.gov, other sums stand out.
On page 89, NASA gets $410 million for “construction and environmental compliance and restoration.” On page 270, the Coast Guard receives $27.5 million for similar purposes. On page 306, $83.9 million is given to the National Parks Service for “environmental compliance and review,” among other reasons.
It costs a lot to make the government comply with … the government.
Another key item is not so obvious in either the full version of the bill or the House Appropriations Committee’s breakdown—namely, $20 million to launch the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC).
The corps is modeled on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, a network of voluntary work camps for unemployed young men during the Great Depression.
Praised by some for its role in building national parks and similar projects, the CCC has also met with criticism for its similarity to work programs in Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Twenty million dollars is much less than the $30 billion the CCC could have gotten through the Build Back Better legislation introduced last November.
Yet in the words of CCC champion Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), the money is merely a “down payment.”
“Beginning this work now will prove essential as we work to fully fund the program through President Biden’s vision to Build a Better America,” Neguse said, referring to the rebrand of “Build Back Better” that Biden introduced during his State of the Union speech.
Environmental groups aligned with the Democrats have repeated a similar refrain: spending in the omnibus, while a good start, does not go far enough.
“We urge Congress to continue the momentum and move forward on major clean energy investments,” said Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“This bill was a compromise, and unfortunately, too many key environmental policies were left by the wayside,” wrote Alexandra Adams, senior director of federal affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a blog post on the legislation.
“Fighting climate change was drastically underfunded as compared to other budget items in this bill,” she added.
As November’s midterm elections loom, the backdrop of war, inflation, spiraling national debt, and rising energy costs could be expected to make Biden less responsive to those groups than before.
Yet, the Biden administration has continued to push back against steps meant to spur American hydrocarbon production and ease the pressure on prices.
At a March 15 press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki expressed skepticism about a proposal from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to boost domestic oil and gas using the Defense Production Act.
“I would note that the use of the Defense Production Act, broadly speaking, would mean you’re paying a company to do what they already have the capacity and the ability to do.
“We know there are 9,000 unused and approved oil leases right now that these oil companies could tap into and do more in,” she said, repeating a frequent claim from the White House that has been criticized by the oil industry for lacking context on the roughly 75 percent use of existing leases, the complex regulatory requirements for lease development, and the “use it or lose it” provision that requires a lease to be returned in 10 years if no production takes place.
If record-breaking energy prices and gloomy midterm prospects haven’t tempered the administration’s rhetoric on energy, climate change, and the environment, it’s hard to imagine next week’s budget request breaking the mold.
Apparently, enough is never enough when spending in the name of climate.