Last week, at Yosemite National Park, President Obama highlighted the impacts of climate change that we’re already seeing today and our responsibility to pass along a more sustainable country, and world, to future generations. The backdrop was fitting. As the President noted: The meadows at Yosemite are drying out; bird ranges are shifting; Alpine mammals are being forced upslope; and glaciers are receding.
Defying – and sometimes even denying – the reality on display at Yosemite, the House and Senate advanced funding bills last week that would shirk our responsibility to future generations. Instead of reacting responsibly to the challenges we’re already facing and choosing to accelerate climate and conservation action, House and Senate Republicans chose to underfund critical programs across agencies that include the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and put forward barriers that undercut efforts to protect our families from pollution – and the public health issues that come with it – and our planet from the effects of climate change.
The way we allocate taxpayer dollars needs to be responsible – and responsive to the trends we’re seeing around the world. The President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget makes critical investments in creating a climate-smart economy, one that cuts pollution by transforming the Nation’s transportation system and grows American leadership in clean energy, accelerates clean water innovation, helps communities prepare for the effects of climate change and become more resilient, protects the Nation’s most treasured natural resources, and demonstrates America’s global leadership in helping other countries reduce their carbon emissions and accelerate their transition to low-carbon economic growth.
Congress needs to do the same.
Congress shouldn’t hamstring our agencies’ ability to protect our air and water – something that’s critical for our families and businesses, for sustainability and economic growth. For example, House Republicans are proposing to cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by more than a quarter, a hit of over $129 million. States rely on this fund to support conversation, recreation, and sportsmen-access efforts from Acadia National Park to the Appalachian Trail, from the Everglades Headwaters in Florida to the Prairie Potholes region in the Midwest, from city parks to Civil War battlefields. The same underinvestment shows up across the board, including the failure to adequately address the National Park Service maintenance backlog and deep cuts to the EPA operations budget, which is necessary to protecting air, water, and public health.
Congress shouldn’t punt on fixing wildfire funding, like the House funding bill does, creating a bigger fiscal hole for American taxpayers and leaving our agencies and the States scrambling to plug budget gaps while they are literally putting out fires. As the threat of wildfire is increasing, with over 68,000 wildfires in the United States burning more than 4,636 structures and ten million acres in 2015 alone, we need to ensure that adequate funds are available to fight wildland fires, protect communities and human lives, and implement appropriate land management activities to improve the resiliency of the Nation’s lands.
And Congress shouldn’t force dozens of pernicious policy provisions – unwelcome “riders” trying to hitch a ride on must-pass legislation – that don’t belong in funding bills. These riders include efforts to block implementation of the Clean Power Plan – commonsense carbon pollution standards for power plants that protect public health – and undermine protection of endangered species like the Greater Sage Grouse – an important indicator species across millions of acres of Western sagebrush. If enacted, these riders will undermine the most basic protections for America's treasures and the people and wildlife that rely on them, as well as the ability of States and communities to address climate change and protect a resource that is essential to America's health: clean water.
As the President has said before, “there is such a thing as being too late;” this is the time for boosting ambition on climate action and conservation; these investments make fiscal sense, and they’re the right thing to do.
The Administration looks forward to working with Congress to enact appropriations that fully support economic growth, opportunity, and our national security priorities and that are free of problematic ideological provisions that are beyond the scope of funding legislation.