President Biden’s proposed federal budget for 2023 to address climate change could be a game-changer. If only it was real.
The just-announced federal budget for FY 2023, a hefty $5.8 trillion, includes an unprecedented $44.9 billion for addressing climate change. It is a sum that, for once, seems to take seriously the challenge of financing initiatives to mitigate climate change and build resiliency to its impacts. The suggested amount is a $16.7 billion increase over last year’s budget and includes $11 billion in international climate aid to undeveloped countries, 10 times the previous budget’s amount.
The Natural Resources Defense Council called it a “robust blueprint for international climate investment” and The Environmental Defense Fund praised the budget’s outline for providing “much-needed increases to climate-forward resources,” applauding the numerous climate and public health “wins.”
As promised since the administration took office, the climate initiatives are based on a “whole of government” approach. The funding is spread across five major agencies that address a variety of climate-related issues, from pollution reduction to conservation, from clean energy technology research to resiliency planning for extreme weather events. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior and Energy Departments, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency would receive the bulk of the funds.
Unfortunately, this budget is still a wish list. It has to be approved by Congress, as usual. Can such a robust proposal that satisfies the NRDC and EDF be agreeable to the problematic Congress in a bitterly contentious political climate and a midterm election year? The answer is most certainly “no.” So the question now becomes how much of this ambitious agenda will survive a Republican opposition that is hostile to granting a “win” to a Democratic administration in general, and antagonistic to climate funding in particular?
The funding is spread across five major agencies that address a variety of climate-related issues, from pollution reduction to conservation, from clean energy technology research to resiliency planning for extreme weather events.
Comparison with last year’s budgetary proposal and eventual outcomes is not encouraging. In FY 2022, Congress made big cuts in the large increases initially proposed by the Biden administration for climate and energy agencies — concessions made to win enough bipartisan backing to pass the budget. For example, reports E&E News:
- The EPA’s proposed $11.9 billion budget for fiscal 2023 would be a 25% increase over current spending of $9.5 billion. However, Biden made a similar proposal for fiscal 2022 that Congress scaled back to only a 3% increase.
- The Energy Department’s proposed $48.2 billion budget for fiscal 2023 would be a 7% increase over current spending of $44.9 billion. However, a similar increase proposed for fiscal 2022 was whittled back to about 5% by lawmakers.
Furthermore, the suggested budget contains some politically tactical items, aimed at gaining support, such as $1.8 billion for a USDA program to address climate change in rural America.
On the other hand, in what is probably the most obvious example of wishful thinking, there is that $11 billion proposed for international climate programs —10 times more than last year’s largely symbolic $1 billion. That sum could be the first to be reduced by a major percentage.
Reality has registered in this way: President Biden hardly referred to climate change in his State of the Union address or in his comments about the recently proposed budget. The calculation here seems to be to embed climate provisions into a sort of business-as-usual approach, in the hopes that proposals will be more attractive with a reduced ideological aura.
But hey, even West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — Mr. Coal Country — has “signaled his interest” in discussing a package of legislation that includes incentives to clean energy initiatives. So, here’s hoping a few pigs fly and Congress passes some semblance of effective climate budgeting.