With the US knee deep in a major deficit crisis, environmental programs are in the budget-slashing firing line. Both sides of the political divide are entrenched in conflict, and while financial stability is important, the future of the environment may become a victim to politics
A Nation Divided
So the question any self-respecting American has to ask is how much do we truly care about the environment? Do we worry about the future of this country? Do we know what our politicians are doing about it? Today, we see a bold stance taken by members of each political party, either raising a flag brandishing a beautiful oak tree or practically driving an army of bulldozers bent on leveling a protected wetland.
People in the know are asking what the overwhelming deficit crisis America is facing ultimately means for the various environmental programs our country enjoys. The US government handles many types of environmentally friendly operations from supporting Energy Star appliances to enforcing clean air initiatives. But a major issue arising now is how to continue with these programs when a giant gap in spending is looming just around the corner.
Do the Numbers Add Up?
As of now, the nation is operating far above costs of $3,456 billion with defense and entitlement payments accounting for the lion's share. Environmental programs represent only a small fraction of the budget – less than a half of one percent.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency only has an annual budget of $10.486 billion per year. Despite this small amount, many politicians in the GOP are decrying it as a waste. They point to the supposed fact that many of the programs, especially those limiting air pollution, are preventing a full economic recovery by scaring companies into not hiring new employees or expanding operations. The Obama administration, however, supports the actions of the EPA, and maintains the policy that continued enforcement of environmental practices force companies to seek alternative energy projects and green initiatives, thereby stimulating job growth. This seems like a much more forward thinking plan, rather than an approach that allows companies to conduct business-as-usual.
What the GOP won't admit is that the economic recovery has little to do with the long-term deficit. The short-term economic recovery most politicians spout about is based around ending the immediate recession caused by bank failures in 2008. As any economist will state, the long-term deficit began decades ago and is a problem that will only continue to get worse over the next half century. Just like major reforms to Medicare or Social Security won't put people back to work now, simply shaving off a little over $10 billion from the EPA right now will do no good to cut the deficit in 25 years.
Among the most horrendous events of the past few months to impact the deficit and environmental programs involves the United States Congress Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called “super committee". This bipartisan commission was established following the debt ceiling debate of August 2011 to deal specifically with the forthcoming deficit problem. Members from the Democrats consisted of mostly centrists while the Republicans had much more of a right wing crowd involved. All this did was inflame the already disjointed conversation.
The Republicans on the super committee pulled party line with the goal of either drawing down the influence of the EPA or eliminating it altogether. Meanwhile, in a perfect example of gridlock, the Democrats on the committee would not compromise at all. This was a direct result of lobbyists working hard on both sides to keep change from happening. In this instance, it looked as if the deficit was irrelevant.
In another point of recent contention, the Republican presidential nomination process is well under way. Each of the candidates, while having varying degrees of opinions, essentially believes that the EPA should be reigned in or eliminated entirely. In addition, there are numerous environmental concerns in general, such as global warming, that some simply don't even believe in. Most cite the deficit as the overarching reason for these changes, although it's obvious that personal beliefs, possibly religious, are at play. The way the GOP candidates act isn't too far off from the way President Reagan removed the solar panels from the roof of the White House.
What About the Future?
Right now, our country is stuck in a proverbial stalemate politically. Each party has positioned itself like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object when it comes to compromise on this issue. While cutting environmental programs has an almost negligible impact of the overall deficit, it has become a target for the do-nothing Congress and potential frontrunners of the upcoming presidential run. While the deficit is a major issue, it is not the only issue. With two sides of the political spectrum refusing to break their stance, the current environmental programs in place most likely will not become affected. This, however, does mean that future programs are unlikely to be acted upon.
What does this all mean? Basically, that the real challenges that lie in store for the world in the 21st century are unlikely to be addressed until it's too late, the victim of party politics as real ideas, innovations and insights are sacrificed for what is deemed to be politically expedient. At least we know we can blame the bipartisan system for this problem. Pretty much like we can blame it for about everything else.
What scares me, though, is that we can blame anyone we want – but without solutions we're all going to suffer.
Air Pollution; Supplied by National Parks Service; Public Domain
EPA Logo; Supplied by the EPA; Public Domain
Capitol Building; Supplied by the US Congress; Public Domain
Blue Marble; Supplied by NASA; Public Domain