Download a pdf-formatted version of this issue at http://www.pennfuture.org/UserFiles/PDFs/vol13no04_021711.pdf.
The famous quote by Otto von Bismarck that “laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made,” couldn’t be more wrong today. Because if we don’t pay attention to what’s being thrown into the Continuing Resolution – the bill to keep the federal government funded that must be passed by March – we could wind up with poisoned sausage that will kill our economy and environment.
The sausage making process is particularly perilous this year, because the Republican majority won election by promising to balance the budget by cutting government spending and cutting taxes. In short, as The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman wrote, they promised to repeal the rules of arithmetic.
But it gets worse. Much of the budget is off limits for statutory or political reasons, like Social Security and Medicare, as well as most military expenditures, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority promised to cut $100 billion from the budget, but realistically, only about 10 percent of the budget is available for consideration. And when push comes to shove, the voters who asked for spending cuts really only want spending cuts on programs they don’t like or don’t know about. That’s why so many members of Congress are making the calculation that they need to find unpopular or unknown programs and/or funding that invests in the future but causes no immediate pain, if they are to keep their promises to the voters, and keep their careers.
So welcome to our poisoned sausage. With members of Congress thinking no one is watching, they are trying to throw anything and everything into the budget grinder, particularly environmental programs that grow our economy in the long run.
Some of the cuts being thrown into the meat grinder include:
The Land and Water Conservation Fund
This fund, which comes not from taxpayers, but from offshore oil and gas leases, was established by Congress in 1965 and provides funding for state and local conservation, as well as for the protection of our national treasures (parks, forest and wildlife areas). The sausage makers want to take ALL the money from this fund, immediately gutting all staff, and halting already agreed-to transfers of land to be conserved from landowners, many of whom are elderly and in desperate financial straits. Cut these funds and say goodbye to the great National Parks like the Grand Canyon as we know them, along with the jobs and economic growth they produce.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program at the U.S. Department of Energy
This program, which helps families and businesses use energy cleaner and smarter, is slated to lose nearly $1 billion. Yet fossil fuels are likely to keep their subsidies which are more than 70 times larger than all renewable and energy savings programs combined. With fuel costs going up, and the health and environment costs of using fossil fuels skyrocketing, this cut will maim the market for newer, cleaner, and cheaper energy sources just as we need them the most.
Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the Clean Air Act
These cuts would mean polluters would get a free ride, allowing old, dangerous and dirty coal-fired power plants to avoid any pollution controls. That would mean no protection from heat-trapping gases that are destroying our planet through global warming. No protection from toxic mercury, which enters our food chain and causes permanent brain damage to babies and fetuses. No protection from soot, which kills thousands each year from heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory diseases. Our air would quickly become dirtier and deadlier.
Cuts to enforcement of the Clean Water Act
These cuts would prevent the EPA from closing loopholes in the law that jeopardize drinking water for 117 million Americans, and hand over 20 million acres of wetlands and prime wildlife habitat to polluters and developers. The proposals would also cut funding that Pennsylvania’s farmers are counting on to protect our rivers and streams from agricultural pollution. And that would destroy the great fishing Pennsylvania enjoys, and the tourism dollars we bring in.
There is much more poison being thrown into the grinder by members of Congress. All together, the final product will kill jobs, ruin our environment, damage our health, and destroy major sectors of the economy. We can’t afford to swallow this poisoned sausage.