What weakening environmental amendments did the Republicans succeed in inserting in the compromise 2011 budget?
They missed out on a lot of what they wanted, but you can be sure they will be back with vengeance for the 2012 edition. Meanwhile, they did manage to put a dent in environmental protection. Their technique was to use reduced spending as a cover for waging ideological war against regulations which they generally regard as anti-capitalist big government encroachment on individual freedom and free trade.
As many economic analyses over the years can attest, both government investment in and regulation of environmental quality are net job creators, not job killers. Pollution abatement opens up new professions and generates far more employment opportunities than it forecloses. Most companies that originally protested more stringent environmental regulation would cripple the economy and drive them out of business have ended up prospering quite nicely under stricter safeguards, thereby fostering a "cry wolf" persona. If you really want to cut spending dramatically and quickly, look across the Potomac at the Pentagon.
Back to the scorecard. Among the "penny-wise, pound-foolish" provisions Republicans did manage to insert in the 2011 budget were spending reductions that would: greatly diminish federal assistance to the states to combat water pollution; halt the Interior Department's program to identify recreational public lands for wilderness protection; cut the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) budget by 16 percent; remove the grey wolf from endangered species protection in the Rocky Mountain states; eliminate funding for high speed rail, governmental weather forecasting, and international climate change research; cancel funds for President Obama's special environmental adviser post (which he has circumvented through an executive order); and mandate a much smaller than they wanted reduction of 30 million dollars for Department of Energy's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
For all their brave talk about including clean renewable energy in the national mix, Republicans are highly partial to fossil fuels at the expense of solar and wind power. Accordingly, they tried unsuccessfully in the 2011 budget to defund much of the governmental support for renewables, arguing that if those energy sources had merit, let them prove it in the open marketplace.
The trouble with that argument is that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized by Washington, putting the far less pampered renewables at an enormous competitive disadvantage. Moreover, renewable energy's startup costs are high so the private sector, with its focus on turning a quick buck, is not going to invest voluntarily without generous government fiscal incentives
Republicans may have been thwarted in the 2011 budget, but they will be back later this year to renew their efforts to drastically hamstring the EPA's ability to regulate air, water, and mining pollution. We should also see a resurgence of their attempt to underfund renewable energy and energy efficiency while increasing support for coal and nuclear power.
It remains to be seen whether Congressional Democrats will muster sufficient determination and numbers to turn back the Republican environmental onslaught and uphold any Obama presidential veto of future unfriendly legislation.