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Obama's Budget: Cut, Save, Invest for a Thriving, Green Economy

04/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

During the presidential election campaign, then-candidate Obama rightly said that the job of finding budget savings should be done with a scalpel, not a sledge-hammer. Now the reality of governing during these difficult economic times is upon him and he has taken the step of freezing some government spending. But his initial principle of carefully cutting and cutting only where it makes sense is still on target, especially when it comes to conservation programs.

It's not hard to find wasteful, outdated spending in government. It's almost part of the furniture. That is why this year, the conservation community offered up over $20 billion of budget offsets in the 2011 Green Budget.

For example, each year the US government gives away a tax break worth $9 billion to companies that extract biofuels in ways that severely damage rainforests and other sensitive areas. And a further $1 billion in subsidies go to companies building liquid fuel refineries. What place do these operations have in a growing and green economy? President Obama knows the answer; none. That's why this week he proposed to eliminate twelve tax breaks and subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies that will raise $39 billion over the next decade.

President Obama's budget is also an acknowledgment that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we now face. And a vital part of keeping our natural heritage intact, through good times and bad is ensuring that we safeguard wildlife and habitat from the threats of global warming and encroaching development. That's why this administration has proposed a serious funding increase -- $35 million -- for the conservation of wildlife and habitat imperiled by climate change. This funding, in part, will go toward funding two new regional science centers set up to study the impacts of global warming on wildlife. This is a smart investment. Federal and state agencies are already tasked with protecting wildlife imperiled by global warming. So by making sure the research side is properly funded, those programs will be made much more effective.

Unfortunately, the President's budget is not all good news for conservation. It is very disappointing that funding for our National Wildlife Refuge System has not been adequately funded in the president's budget. National wildlife refuges contribute over $1.7 billion to local economies each year. And they produce about $543 million in employment income, supporting almost 27,000 private sector jobs -- jobs that can't be sent overseas. Just as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sought out investment in projects that were already in the works, it makes sense to invest our precious tax dollars in sustainable programs that are already working.

Since the Recession began, American families all over the country have been spending their money more wisely, and now the US government is catching up. While almost all recognize that spending will be limited, we should not forget that there are many worthy projects supporting valuable national assets that, with the appropriate level of federal funding, can actually help lead us back to a growing economy, built on environmentally-friendly initiatives. Investments in the right programs and projects can provide benefits to our economy, our health and our natural resources that far outweigh the costs.

President Obama's commitment to restoring fiscal responsibility has become an opportunity to rethink the ways we invest in our country. Now, more than ever, is the time to redirect our money and energy into worthy programs that provide a framework in which a green economy can thrive.