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A bold budget vision for climate

A bold budget vision for climate
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The Biden administration’s proposed federal budget confronts the challenge of climate change with a bold agenda for addressing it. It provides funding to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in infrastructure and climate resiliency, expand climate research and policy development, and partner with the global community to respond to this shared challenge. The budget turns climate goals into achievable actions.

It increases climate spending by $14 billion to a total of $36 billion across nearly every federal agency, investing in resilience and clean energy, enhancing America’s competitiveness and working to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The budget also directs that 40 percent of the benefits from climate spending address the disproportionate pollution burdens facing our nation’s indigenous and low-income communities and communities of color.

The Biden budget requests $4 billion for clean energy projects and climate resilience. This includes funding for energy-saving retrofits to homes, schools and federal buildings; to incorporate climate impacts in disaster planning; and to increase the resilience of ecosystems and communities in the face of wildfires, flooding and drought. This new spending includes $450 million for climate mitigation, resilience, adaptation and environmental justice projects in Indian Country, which is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

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A major part of the climate plan is spending on innovation and science.

It directs $4 billion to a broad portfolio of climate research across multiple agencies to improve understanding of the changing climate and how to adapt and become more resilient to those changes. Funding for clean energy and resilience across non-defense agencies would increase to more than $10 billion, helping to transform our Nation’s electric, transportation, buildings and industrial sectors to achieve a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. Finally, it provides $1 billion for new initiatives to pursue high-risk, high-reward solutions for adaptation, mitigation and resilience against the climate crisis and supports clean energy technology.

A centerpiece is $1.5 billion in new funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand its climate observation and forecasting work and provide better data and information to decision-makers; support coastal resilience programs to protect communities from the economic and environmental impacts of climate change; and invest in modern infrastructure to enable these critical efforts.

The federal budget also includes $300 million in new investments in the next generation of agriculture and conservation, and supports $6.5 billion in lending for additional clean energy, energy storage, and transmission projects in rural communities.

Finally, the budget supports international climate cooperation. It will accelerate progress toward the Paris Agreement targets, with $1.2 billion for the first American contribution since 2017 to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. It also provides an additional $1.1 billion for multilateral climate work and to help developing nations adapt to climate disruptions, expand clean energy production, and reduce landscape emissions. 

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EPA 

EPA plays an important role in this broad federal strategy and its fiscal 2022 budget addresses climate change with the urgency the science demands. The budget increases EPA funding by $2 billion, with 90 percent of the increase — $1.8 billion —going to programs to tackle the climate crisis, which EPA defines expansively. EPA’s budget also directs resources to disadvantaged communities and increases funding for its environmental justice program by $282 million. 

The fiscal 2022 budget also increases support for reducing air pollution, including $153 million for EPA air and climate programs, and $100 million to improve air quality monitoring and provide real time data on air pollution to disadvantaged communities. Science funding on air issues increases by $82 million, including $60 million for research into climate change and its impacts. 

The budget also adds $100 million to funding for grants to help states and tribes address greenhouse gas emissions, and it provides $59 million in targeted airshed grants to reduce pollution in communities with the Nation’s most polluted air. It also provides $150 million to reduce diesel emissions that can impose crippling pollution burdens on disadvantaged communities near transport corridors and facilities.

Another element in EPA’s climate strategy is improving America’s water infrastructure to keep communities safe, healthy and resilient in the face of catastrophic events that accompany climate change. Extreme conditions such as flooding, storm damage and fires can overwhelm water systems and leave entire communities without safe water. 

The administration addresses water infrastructure with $101 billion under the American Jobs Plan to eliminate lead from drinking water systems and to upgrade and modernize aging drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. 

And the EPA budget also provides important support for water infrastructure, increasing state wastewater and drinking water infrastructure revolving loan funds by $460 million. It includes $100 million that can help small and disadvantaged communities fund water systems, address lead in drinking water, test for lead in water in schools and manage sewer overflows. 

Harsh climate events can also disturb and circulate dangerous pollution from about 800 Superfund toxic waste sites that are vulnerable to wildfires and flooding. The EPA budget addresses these risks with $300 million in new Superfund cleanup funding to start or accelerate cleanups at 34 priority sites. Finally, it adds $40 million to brownfields funding to redevelop former hazardous waste sites.

The EPA budget, like the federal budget, defines the climate challenge broadly and embraces bold measures to address it. Congress needs to support EPA’s funding request along with other federal climate measures.

David F. Coursen is a former EPA attorney and a member of the Environmental Protection Network, a nonprofit organization of EPA alumni working to protect the agency's progress toward clean air, water, land and climate protection.