The budget proposal released by President Obama last week is a long and complicated document (140 pages, PDF). It departs significantly from how things have been done in the past in many regards, so it will take a while for conservation and environmental groups to fully assess its implications on environmental policies.
With that being said, there are a number of hugely important items that offer hints into the impacts this administration will have on conservation and environmental projects of interest to Minnesotans.
The biggest change in environmental policy likely to come about in the President’s first term is what is known as cap-and-trade (PDF). The idea is simple. National annual carbon emissions are capped at a specific level, which decreases annually. Polluters must purchase or trade for emissions credits in order to pollute legally. By decreasing the cap (number of credits) annually, the price of credits will follow a generally upward trend. The dividend created from the sale or auction of these credits is then partially invested in renewable energy and efficiency projects. The remainder of this dividend is distributed throughout the economy by using it to compensate consumers for increased prices. President Obama would use the money to pay for his Making Work Pay tax credit.
Additionally, the budget includes a number of provisions that will have important implications for state conservation and environmental programs:
35% increase in overall funding for the EPA is fiscal year 2010
This historic increase is above and beyond the $7 billion in funding the agency will receive for projects in the economic recovery package. We applaud this bold and necessary move. However, proposed funding for subsequent years will grow only slightly, at a rate unlikely to even keep up with inflation. The increase is primarily for clean water; the budget includes $3.9 billion a year in funding for clean water and clean drinking projects. This is enough funding to cover approximately 1,000 clean water projects and 700 drinking water projects each year. This 34% increase in funding for clean water projects is in addition to money already allocated in the economic recovery package.
Access to clean water is a hugely important priority in Minnesota. As we reported last year (The President’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2009 Federal Budget: Impact on Environment & Natural Resource Protection in Minnesota), the Clean Water State Revolving Fund is the primary tool for enabling local communities to fix water pollution problems caused by aging or inadequate wastewater treatment infrastructure. When wastewater is not adequately treated, it carries bacteria and pollutants into groundwater, lakes, and rivers, threatening human health and causing serious environmental harm.
Minnesota, like many states, has serious and urgent wastewater treatment needs. Many communities are relying on antiquated systems that were built decades ago and have reached the end of their useful lives. In other communities, water treatment systems have not kept up with population growth, overburdening some systems and pushing others to their maximum capacity. Moreover, a 2008 report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PDF) found that nearly 100 small Minnesota communities with limited financial resources have instances where there is no functioning treatment system at all and raw untreated sewage is being discharged directly into surface waters or ground areas.
Reinstatement of the tax that paid for Superfund
This excise tax, primarily on oil, is projected to raise $17.2 billion over ten years. This money will be used to clean up hazardous sites such as the New Brighton/Arden Hills/TCAAP site in Ramsey County or the St. Louis River site near Duluth. All told there are 25 eligible sites in Minnesota and over 1,200 nationwide.
$475 million to clean up the Great Lakes
Collectively, the Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater resource. But we have been neglecting this resource for years. This vitally important initiative was originally requested by the Bush administration, but it never received the funding it needed to get off the ground. Those of us in Minnesota have been fighting for such an initiative for years, and are extremely glad to see it coming to fruition.
Check out a previous post on the Great Lakes funding.
As mentioned at the outset, there is simply too much in this budget proposal to summarize all of the potential impacts on conservation and environmental policy in Minnesota. Overall we can say that this budget proposal gives us reason to be optimistic about conservation and environmental policies under President Obama.
Are there other pieces of conservation and environmental policy in Minnesota addressed by President Obama’s budget that we should be paying attention to? Help us out by responding in the comment section below and letting us know what you have found. Please use links and citations when possible, so we can be sure to find exactly which provisions you are referring to.