Smoke from fires over Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington (September 11, 2020).
Smoke from fires over Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington (September 11, 2020).
Indefinitely Wild

This Is What Biden’s Budget Does for the Environment

Here’s how President Biden plans to address climate change, pollution, and public lands in the greatest detail we’ve seen so far

Smoke from fires over Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington (September 11, 2020).

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On May 28, the Biden Administration published its first annual budget request for fiscal year 2022. It’s ambitious, going far beyond simply a return to normalcy, and envisioning a future where the federal government more actively addresses the problems our country faces.

“Don’t tell me what you value,” President Biden said back in 2008, reciting one of his father’s expressions. “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Federal budgets are set by Congress, not the White House. While it’s unlikely that any president’s budget proposal will move through the House and Senate unaltered, they do give us unique insight into an administration’s plans and priorities.

Climate Change

The budget request adds $14 billion in new annual spending to address climate change across all relevant government agencies. That money would help build the country’s capacity for switching away from fossil fuels in what Biden calls a “whole of government” attempt to address the problem.

The administration is promising to spend 40 percent of those investments in marginalized communities, which are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

The budget also includes a $1.2 billion investment in the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations organization created by the Paris Agreement on climate change. The fund helps developing countries work toward lower emissions. The Obama administration invested $1 billion in it before President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2017.

Air and Water Pollution

The proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency increases 22 percent from fiscal year 2021 to $11.2 billion. The money would be used to return staffing levels at the agency to pre-Trump levels, and includes infrastructure investments that aim to reduce the amount of pollution all Americans are exposed to.

As part of the American Jobs Plan—the President’s signature infrastructure legislation—the budget would begin work to eliminate all lead pipes in the country’s drinking water system. There’s also $580 million allocated to the Jobs Plan’s program for plugging disused oil wells and cleaning up abandoned mines.

A $936 million program would address racial disparities in exposure to pollution: $100 million of that would go to creating new air quality monitoring and notification technology that would give communities real-time data on pollution exposure levels.

Renewable Energy

The budget proposes that $800 billion be invested across the next decade in clean energy technologies. This would fund the construction of new wind turbines and solar panels, invest in the American auto industry’s transition to electric vehicles, and accelerate the construction of next-generation nuclear power plants, among other goals.

Of that budget, $265 billion would provide tax breaks for companies constructing clean energy technologies like offshore wind farms and battery storage for the electrical grid.

There are also $10 billion in credits for companies developing or producing zero-emissions trucks, $6.6 billion in credits for the development of cleaner jet fuel, and $23 billion for more efficient electricity transmission lines capable of transmitting power from offshore wind farms to far away customers on land. Another $23 billion in credits is set aside for companies installing carbon capture technology at existing power plants and factories.

A $4.3 billion increase in the Energy Department’s budget is intended to pay for programs that would help make homes more efficient, and to speed permitting processes for new power transmission lines.

The budget proposes that $50 billion be set aside to procure clean energy technologies for use by all federal agencies. This includes programs like electrifying the United States Postal Service’s vehicle fleet.

At the Department of the Interior, $86 million is set aside to create the Civilian Climate Corps, a Biden Administration proposal for an employment program that will put Americans to work cleaning up public lands and waters. It also includes a $249 million investment in clean energy infrastructure on public lands and in offshore waters managed by the department. A $169 million fund is established for the new Energy Community Revitalization Program, which would  pay for fossil fuel clean up programs on public land, and provide grants to states and tribes to do the same.

All in, these investments are designed to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to at least 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.

National Park Service

The budget proposal calls for $3.5 billion for the National Park Service, a 12 percent increase from 2021 funding. That money would allow the agency to hire over 1,000 new rangers and begin to address the huge maintenance backlog (last calculated at about $12 billion in 2018 and increasing at a rate of $275 million per year).

“The proposed National Park Service budget of $3.5 billion, together with another $1.1 billion in mandatory funding, will allow us to make needed improvements to parks across the country, providing our visitors with better experiences and advancing the mission of the National Park Service to preserve and protect these lands unimpaired for future generations,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge in an emailed statement.

The budget would increase public health spending in national parks by $1 million, and add $10 million to programs intended to keep pollution created by mineral extraction out of parks. It would also provide funds to make the wearing of body cameras mandatory for all park rangers and United States Park Police officers.

Ten million dollars are included for the construction of a voting rights center at the Selma Interpretive Center in Alabama, honoring the legacy of civil rights leaders, including the late Representative John Lewis. And $7.5 million is set aside for the rehabilitation of the visitor center at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park.

A $14 million fund would be created to enable the park service to create better climate vulnerability assessments across its units, improving its ability to invest in new infrastructure. The budget also provides funds for NPS to acquire 131,572 new acres of land across 33 proposed areas.

Forest Fires

An additional $476 million would be added to the United States Forest Service’s fuel reduction and forest resilience budget, taking that up to $1.7 billion annually. USFS manages national Forests. The proposed budget adds $340 million to the Department of the Interior’s fuel reduction budget. DOI runs the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.

Critically, the budget also acknowledges the role climate change plays in our nation’s worsening wildfire crisis.

“Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires, transforming the Nation’s forests at an unprecedented rate and destroying homes and businesses,” the budget proposal states. This funding supports the Administration’s science-based approach to improve the resilience of forest and rangeland ecosystems to water stress from multiyear drought conditions and to protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and the wildland-urban interface from the negative impacts of uncharacteristically severe wildfire.”

This is a big step up from the previous administration, which went to great efforts to blame everything but climate change for wildfires, pointing the finger at liberal politicians, environmental activists, and even rakes, while cutting fire fighting budgets across relevant agencies.

How Are We Going to Pay for All of This?

While the $6 trillion headline figure would represent the largest federal budget ever, the Biden administration is only proposing $300 billion in new spending here. And its plan for raising that money is transparent.

Much of the proposed spending on renewable energy investments can be offset by canceling taxpayer subsidies for oil, gas, and coal production. The Biden administration is proposing cutting $35 billion of those subsidies over the next decade. It also says it can recoup $84 billion by cleaning up tax codes around foreign income declared by oil and gas producers.

But the main way Biden wants to pay for his budget is by partially returning tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and corporate taxes to pre-Trump levels. The administration is proposing returning the top marginal tax rate for individuals earning more than $452,700 a year, or couples earning over $509,300, from its current 37 percent to the 39.6 percent that was in place before 2017. For large corporations, Biden wants to increase the tax rate from 21 percent to, “between 25 and 28 percent.” Before 2017, that number was 35 percent.

“The budget is built around a fundamental understanding of how our economy works and why, for too long and for too many, it has not,” said President Biden when he introduced the budget to Congress. “It is a budget that reflects the fact that trickle-down economics has never worked, and that the best way to grow our economy is not from the top down, but from the bottom up and the middle out.”