Wildlife Teetering on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff
Written by Miles Grant
Most of the talk you hear on the news about the looming fiscal cliff focuses on taxes, but the so-called “sequester” – automatic cuts to federal spending – could have just as big of an impact on your community. If Congress and President Obama can’t reach a deal in time, devastating funding cuts for conservation kick in, squeezing wildlife habitat, clean air and water protections and jobs across America. The sequester is a blunt instrument – the 8.2 percent axe will fall right down to the program level, limiting our ability to protect crucial habitat and fight pollution and invasive species.
These “sequestration” cuts are themselves the result of a separate deal over a budget impasse in 2011. Congress approved the Budget Control Act after failing to increase the nation’s debt limit. Rather than default on the national debt, Congress raised the debt-ceiling and set a deadline for enacting deficit reduction.
The fiscal cliff deadline of January 2, 2013 is approaching fast. If there’s no deficit-reduction deal at that time, the following will occur:
- Several tax cuts and exemptions, such as the temporary payroll tax cut, will expire
- Additional taxes, already scheduled to be enacted, will come into effect
- Spending cuts for over 1,000 government programs and agencies will take place
While critical programs across the country will be trimmed, the spending cuts that loom over conservation programs (pdf) are draconian. Already, Congress has slashed some conservation investments by as much as 30 percent, compared to just 7 percent in overall federal spending reductions. Such cuts would make it harder for the EPA to enforce new pollution limits on mercury emissions, and will result in the probable closure of National Wildlife Refuges and visitors centers. Agencies and program personnel would have no ability to shield certain programs in favor of others: every single program would get the same 8.2-percent cut.
Perhaps the best example of the fundamental problem with these cuts is the Sport Fish and Wildlife Restoration Funds, which are used to support wildlife and fisheries conservation. This isn’t general taxpayer funding: the money is paid into the trust funds by sportsmen and anglers, via an excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment. These two funds will be cut by $34 million and $31 million respectively, endangering countless species.
And these folks have a huge impact on our local economies: according to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation supports 6.1 million American jobs and $646 billion in consumer spending each year. In addition, national parks, wildlife refuges and other sites attract more than 414 million visitors, supporting 316,000 jobs in tourism and recreation in all 50 states and generating more than $25 billion in economic activity.
Unfortunately, the cuts go beyond our recreation in the outdoors:
- The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program, which provides crucial funding for preventing wildlife from becoming endangered, will be cut by about $5 million, leaving only $56 million to protect wildlife in all 50 states.
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding for countless National Parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands, will be cut by about $20 million, almost certainly delaying or halting crucial conservation projects.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Programs and Management funding, which supports a variety of environmental protection and restoration programs — including critical Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act protection programs — will be cut by $220 million, undermining fundamental federal regulation and putting our access to clean air and water at risk.
- The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program, which makes investments in clean energy essential to our nation’s environment and economy, will be cut by $148 million.
While these cuts to conservation programs and regulatory agencies are looming, billions of dollars in subsidies for dirty energy companies is off the table, immune to sequestration. That’s despite poll after poll showing most Americans favor investment in clean energy over continuing subsidies for polluting energy sources like oil and coal.
Reducing or eliminating dirty-energy subsidies is the first step in a balanced approach to balancing the budget. Congress can save more than $100 billion by eliminating wasteful tax giveaways for oil, gas, mining and ethanol special interests. At the same time, every $1 million invested in ecosystem restoration activities creates an average of 30 mostly private-sector jobs. Conversation funding is pro-growth, and has the added benefit of safeguarding our land, water and air for future generations.
We must not turn back the clock and say we can’t afford clean air and water for our children and grandchildren.
To learn more about the fiscal cliff and its impact on wildlife and conservation, visit NWF.org/FiscalCliff.
About the author: Miles Grant is the National Wildlife Federation’s online communications manager, working to connect the policy and politics up on Capitol Hill to the changes global warming is bringing to your backyard. He works with reporters to help them find the best science available, reviews the latest climate news at NWF’s Wildlife Promise blog and monitors misinformation pushed by polluters.
About NWF: The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, working in communities across the country to protect wildlife for our children’s future. NWF is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.
Photo: USFWS Ocelot © Tom Smylie