Obama looks to forge ‘climate-smart economy’ with budget

Obama looks to forge ‘climate-smart economy’ with budget
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President Obama is proposing significant funding increases to environmental regulators and clean energy research as part of his final budget offered as president

The plan, he said in a budget document released by the White House on Tuesday, looks to create a “climate-smart economy” and cement his legacy on climate change on his way out of the Oval Office next year. 

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“We have made great strides to foster a robust clean energy industry and move our economy away from energy sources that fuel climate change,” Obama wrote in the preamble to his budget message to Congress. 

“Rather than shrinking from the challenge, America must foster the spirit of innovation to create jobs, build a climate-smart economy of the future, and protect the only planet we have.”

The centerpiece of Obama’s proposal is a plan to green the transportation sector through a $32 billion, 10-year pan to invest in mass transit, clean vehicle research and lower-emission transportation sectors on the local and state level. He would pay for the plan by assessing a $10 per barrel tax on oil produced in the United States. 

Republicans — as they will with many other sections of the budget — have rejected that tax, making it unlikely the transportation plan will move forward in Congress. 

Obama is also looking to double the federal government’s investment in clean energy research and development, from $6.4 billion in 2016 to $12.8 billion in 2021, according to the budget proposal. About 76 percent of the funding for research and development will go toward Department of Energy research programs. 

Water programs get a boost in the budget, which would increase conservation programs and research work by $62.9 million over 2016 levels. 

Climate change resilience measures are also built into the budget. It provides $2 billion over 10 years for coastal areas susceptible to sea level rise, $311 million for a flood insurance program and new investments in anti-drought and wildfire programs.

Obama also looks to use his budget to support the recent international climate agreement reached in Paris by pumping $1.3 billion into international climate change programs, including a $750 million investment in the Green Climate Fund for developing countries.

Obama has looked to make climate change one of the leading priorities of his second term, pushing new regulations and international diplomatic efforts to confront climate change and reduce the emissions that cause it. 

Climate proposals in his budget, however, are likely to be stymied by Republicans in Congress who have been hostile to his work on the matter. The Green Climate Fund, for instance, went unfunded in the spending deal reached last December, with the GOP saying it wanted more oversight of Obama’s climate work before providing more funding for it. 

Regardless, Obama built the climate goals into his budget because, as he said in his message to Congress, “The challenge of climate change will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”

“Last year was the hottest on record, surpassing the record set just a year before,” he said. “Climate change is already causing damage, including longer, more severe droughts and dangerous floods, disruptions to our food and water supply and threats to our health, our economy and our security."