Fiscal Cliff Threatens Environmental Protections That Voters Supported

by Frances Beinecke, via NRDC’s Switchboard

Americans elected clean energy and clean air champions up and down the ticket last week. Even though oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $270 million on campaign ads in the past two months, the majority of people rejected their dirty agenda. Voters want healthy air and safe drinking water, not more pollution.

Our leaders should keep this in mind as they negotiate a way off the fiscal cliff as Congress reconvenes this week. If Congress fails to reach an agreement, automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would kick in, making it much harder for the government to deliver the health and environmental protections people value.

We would feel these punishing cuts in our daily lives. Imagine if the sewage treatment plant in your community didn’t pay for repairs and had to start dumping raw sewage into nearby beaches. Or imagine if you traveled to a National Park for an affordable family vacation and discovered the visitor center was shuttered and the campgrounds closed down. Or imagine if air monitoring stations in your city ran out of funding and it became harder to tell when it was safe for children to play outside or when asthma-causing pollutants were running high.

Our country’s budget deficit is a serious problem, but crippling programs Americans count on is not the answer.

The natural resources section of the budget—including programs protecting our air, water, lands, and parks—makes up only 1.4 percent of federal spending. Their funding has already been cut, since most efforts to control the budget so far have concentrated disproportionately on discretionary spending. Slicing too deeply into programs that have already taken a hit would be both harmful for the environment and unproductive for deficit reduction.

America can get on a path to deficit reduction without making our air dirtier or our water unsafe to drink. To achieve this goal, Congress must negotiate a deal that prevents automatic budget cuts from taking place. Congress needs to take a balanced approach in such a deal. That means revenue increases need to be an important part of any solution. The president has been very clear on that point, and he is right to make it a condition for any deal.

One part of raising revenues should be ending the practice of favoring mature oil and gas corporations—among the richest in the world—with billions of dollars in subsidies. Our tax policies should be helping companies install new clean energy technology across the country.  Congress should extend the very successful production tax credit for wind energy, which has broad bipartisan support.

Congress is facing a fundamental choice about the kind of country America is going to be. Some GOP lawmakers would use the genuine need to cut the deficit as a cover for shrinking the size of government and destroying environmental programs and safeguards.

But President Obama and many other leaders believe government has a legitimate role to play in creating a vibrant society and a healthy environment. Last week’s election repudiated the anti-government, budget-shredding agenda in favor of more balanced, sustainable approach. Congress should heed these results.

Frances Beinecke is the President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard and was reprinted with permission.

9 Responses to Fiscal Cliff Threatens Environmental Protections That Voters Supported

  1. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Just put the income tax schedule back to where it was before the totally failed Reaganomics experiment, not just in the USA but around the world. The screaming will eventually die down, ME

  2. All of these prognostications about what Obama is going to do for Climate Hawks smack of Dick Morris predicting a landslide victory for Romney. It has the feel of a tactic to keep the public in line.

    Obama had great support from the LGBT community but we now know that action on marriage equality is not in his 2nd term agenda. Why do we think that it will be better for the climate?

    We need to ramp up the pressure on him. One rumor was that Ken Salazar would leave Interior. Replace him with Amory Lovins or someone equally tuned in to solutions to this problem. Then, I will believe.

  3. Ozonator says:

    It won’t make a bit of difference one way or the other as extreme GOP Jindal’s Dream State still does not recognize AGW and other toxic chemicals effect on a fetus. “Louisiana receives poor grade for premature births” (, 11/13/12).

  4. The so-called “fiscal cliff” is a bunch of crap manufactured by the powers that be to scare us into giving up essential government services. Don’t worry about it too much — the Republicans aren’t going to let the military budget get cut.

    We do need to tell Obama and the Senate to stand strong and protect our social security (not an entitlement program) and Medicare (an entItlement).

    A grand bargain is unlikely until after the first of the year. They will find some way to wiggle out of the Simpson-Bowles agreement. Next year we need to push hard, as the author has said, to make sure the environment stays on the table.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ll enjoy that screaming. Couldn’t we let them wail like banshees for a while?

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Oh, dear. That (the marriage equality problem) is a bad sign that things will be akin to Obama’s first term. Time will tell. However, despite growing public support for climate action and renewables, the absolute bedrock reality is that the fossil fuel industries are the greatest concentration of money and power in late capitalism. They will not simply surrender and go away. Not ever. Not peacefully.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    This is just another example of ‘disaster capitalism’. Wreck an economy either by sanctions, invasion or home-grown fraud and malfeasance committed by immoral elites, then use the chaos to ram through even more socially regressive and destructive policies. Spend billions bailing out crooked banksters, then pay for it by destroying social welfare, privatising everything (including, inevitably, national parks etc)and driving down wages and conditions. Look to Spain, Greece, Portugal, Latvia, the UK etc for what is to come, or Mexico or Argentina a few decades ago. The elite are driven by insatiable greed and boundless hatred and contempt for the ‘little people’ to ever greater social looting, rapidly increasing inequality, poverty and misery. And this huge and growing inequality is the root cause of the global economic implosion, so yet greater exercises in social retrenchment inevitably lead to a spiral downwards to neo-feudalism.

  8. jyyh says:

    So far the rebublican agenda on gun&ammo gives me the impression that you do not specially have to worry about immigration either. When people can’t go to political rallies or movie theatres without fear of being shot, I beleive they stay out of the rebublican dominated areas voluntarily. The main trouble there could be that they use so much of their income into prepping for some imaginary invasion that they let other infrastructure to rot. (Explanation to this comment is that a Fox-channel has begun to show here, too)

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Won’t even hear it above the screech of Cyclone Gaia, ME