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03/12/2013 03:17 pm ET Updated Mar 14, 2013

Environmentalists Decry Paul Ryan Budget

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday released his budget proposal calling for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and slashing the discretionary spending that helps protect Americans from climate-related threats.

"We were struck in part because Mr. Ryan leads off his budget document by talking about protecting Americans and we're concerned because it doesn't," said Josh Saks, legislative director for the National Wildlife Federation. "It doesn't address climate change, but it also undercuts agencies like NOAA and FEMA that help us understand when these storms are coming and how to be more resilient in the face of them."

Saks is alluding to cutting discretionary spending -- the operating expenses of the government -- leaving it relatively flat over a 10-year budget period, though it's impossible to say which specific programs would be cut. Discretionary spending would go from $1.114 trillion in the 2014 fiscal year to $1.209 trillion in 2023. That's average annual growth of less than 1 percent and $249 billion less than what would be spent under current policies, according to the plan.

A phone call to Ryan's office seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Saks also took issue with the Ryan budget's contention that 70 percent of proceeds from federal holdings should be put toward deficit reduction rather than, say, generating more public lands. "I understand Mr. Ryan wants to balance the budget," he said, "but we think these federal lands are part of our national identity."

Perhaps most alarming to environmentalists was Ryan's call for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has taken center stage in the fight to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ryan endorses the pipeline for economic reasons, claiming in his budget proposal it would "create more than 20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs while battling the high cost of gas." (A State Department report found that while the project may support as many as 42,100 jobs over the course of a few years, it would create only 35 permanent positions.)

The budget continues subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, as noted by 350.org's Jamie Henn. "Ryan's budget trumpets the importance of innovation and fairness, yet slashes support for renewable energy while maintaining billions of dollars in handouts for the fossil fuel industry," he told HuffPost via email. "The Sanders-Ellison 'End Polluter Welfare Act' identified over $11 billion a year in subsidies going to companies like ExxonMobil: Any serious budget plan would start by ending these kickbacks."

Ryan's budget, which stands little chance of passing a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, is considered largely a symbolic gesture. But Keystone has long been discussed in terms of symbolism, and environmentalists, for their part, are happy to engage.

"When you do the math it becomes clear that the best way to generate revenue and new job growth would be to enact a strong price on carbon, something that would level the playing field and unleash a new clean energy economy," said Henn. "Then again, as we saw with Ryan's mistaken marathon times, sometimes he gets the numbers mixed up."

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