As the dust settles after Congress' debt-ceiling donnybrook, political analysts point out that one group took a particularly severe beating: Environmentalists. House Republicans tried to tack on a number of last-minute riders to the bill, signalling the GOP caucus' apparent plan to specifically de-fund the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department — responsible for our national parks and other wilderness areas — clean energy initiatives, and other environmental programs. While the final array of cuts won't be decided until later this year (by a congressional "super committee"), some critics fear the agreement could "gut the EPA," undermine America's ability to compete in the new energy economy, and cause irreversible harm to the nation's air, water, and wilderness. Here, a brief guide:
What programs were targeted?
Some riders to the deficit-shrinking bill prevent the EPA from taking any action on greenhouse gas emissions, automobile fuel-efficiency standards, or toxins produced by coal burning. EPA infrastructure grants that help to improve waste-water treatment plants, monitor pollution, and maintain drinking water standards are also potentially on the chopping block. "With infrastructure, we're already in a big hole," says James Walsh, a former Republican congressman, as quoted by Politico. "But this isn't going to help."
What about clean energy initiatives?
They're also expected to take a big hit. Among them are the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, which supports technologies seeking smart alternatives to America's energy use. Energy grants, energy-related loan guarantees, and tax credits for wind, solar, geothermal, and other sustainable energy programs are also vulnerable.
What will be the impact of these proposed cuts?
It's too early to tell how budget cuts would affect individual programs, but environmentalists are predicting the worst. Draconian austerity measures "threaten to damage our water, our air, and our lands beyond repair," says Wilderness Society President William Meadows, as quoted by The Hill. "It's creating an environmental debt that we can't repay."
Is there any hope for environmental programs?
Of course. Even in the current tax-averse climate, a report co-authored by former New Mexico Republican Rep. Pete Domenici — which found that a carbon tax could raise about $1.1 trillion by 2025 while also cutting carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent — might have some influence. And since Democrats are still in charge of the Senate — not to mention the White House — the GOP can't simply unilaterally gut the EPA. Nonetheless, in Washington these days, it's not easy being green.