The Budget and the Environment
Air Date: Week of February 11, 2000
Host Steve Curwood and Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard discuss the environmental aspects of President Clinton's new budget proposals. More funds for open space acquisition appear to be gaining momentum on Capitol Hill.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And with me now is Mark Hertsgaard, Living on Earth's political observer. Hi, Mark. How are you doing?
HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.
CURWOOD: Now, let's talk politics. In particular, let's talk about President Clinton's budget for fiscal 2001. Now, when the president went up in front of Congress and gave his State of the Union, he said that the greatest environmental challenge of the new century is going to be global warming. How do we see this reflected in the budget?
HERTSGAARD: Well, Mr. Clinton is proposing $2.4 billion in spending, which is a 40 percent increase over what Congress approved last year on this, and in particular he wants to put this toward increasing energy efficiency. That is substantively very clever, because that is where you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions the quickest, with energy efficiency. And the individual initiatives there are quite impressive. They want to give big tax credits to consumers who buy these super-efficient new cars. They're talking about up to $4,000 in tax credits to buy, say, the Toyota Preis, which is a hybrid electric that Toyota is planning to price at $17,000. So that's almost a 25 percent reduction in the price of those cars. Now, they're also talking about tax credits for homeowners. They're talking about getting this overseas as well, to increase American exports of energy efficiency. And that's their direction: $2.4 billion.
CURWOOD: Now, the other thing that got a lot of attention in the State of the Union was the president's talk about a lands legacy. What's happened to this in his budget proposal?
HERTSGAARD: Lands legacy, President Clinton very proudly said it would be the most enduring investment in land preservation ever proposed. They want to spend about $1.4 billion to preserve open space, to help protect the coasts around the country. That would be, the large part of the spending would go to coastal protection. They want to fight urban sprawl. They want to save farm lands. And this is an important initiative, no question about that. And they expect to have quite a bit of support for it.
CURWOOD: Mark, this brings to mind the initiative that the House passed last November. They called it the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which would dedicate almost $3 billion for a variety of conservation and land protection initiatives across the country. That's more than twice as much money as what the president's talking about. How are these related?
HERTSGAARD: You can't help but see them as related. They're quite similar. The Miller-Young bill that you're mentioning from the House has a fascinating history to it, because the two main sponsors, George Miller from California, an extremely by congressional standards liberal democrat, cooperating with the chairman, Mr. Young of Alaska, who is extremely conservative. And they disagree on everything, but they somehow brought together this coalition, very bipartisan, very local, and their total bill would be $2.85 billion, and it would be permanent. That is a major difference from what the White House wants to do. What would make the House bill permanent is that they want to fund an authorization that would permanently devote all of the oil and gas royalties that the federal government gets from drilling off the coast, would permanently go into this land and conservation fund. What Mr. Clinton wants to do would be an appropriations process year by year.
CURWOOD: But what's in it for the president, though, to propose something that's half the size of what Don Young and George Miller have come up with?
HERTSGAARD: Mr. Clinton always takes the middle road, you know, and I think that he figures that this is what we can get done. And it is true that it is harder to pass an authorization. The Miller-Young bill has some very strong support in the House, but they are the first to admit that the Senate is, as they say, quote, "a black hole." It's unclear what's going to happen in the Senate, so the White House figures okay, well let's push on something that maybe is a little bit more politically feasible.
CURWOOD: At the end of the day, how do you think these two issues, this lands business and the climate change, are going to fare in this year's Congress?
HERTSGAARD: I think these land, whether it's the land legacy or the Miller-Young bill, is going to have stronger, more positive reception for the reasons we mentioned. There's very strong bipartisan support for open space and all of that. The climate change is going to be an interesting political fight, because traditionally, of course, Republicans have been very opposed to the idea that climate change even exists, much less spending money to fight it. However, interesting wrinkle: The White House is expecting strong lobbying support on this from the business community, especially overseas where Clinton wants to spend a little bit of this money. They're talking about a $4 trillion market over the next 20 years in energy efficiency technologies. And you've got firms like United Technologies, Enron, Johnson Controls. These are big companies, and indeed the White House has just briefed them on this, this week. And when I asked the White House official, "Do you expect them to be lobbying to help the White House pass this?" his exact quote was, "I expect them to lobby to help themselves." So there's going to be a lot of strong business push and it'll be interesting to see how Republicans respond to that as the year goes by.
CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks, Mark.
HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.
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