Deficit Committee Failure: Feast for Polluters, Famine for Outdoor Economy

Grand Canyon (via Paul Fundenburg/Flickr)
It looks like the Congressional deficit committee will officially throw in the towel today. Reports the Washington Post:

The congressional supercommittee will officially end its push to tame the national debt not with a bang, but with a whimper, Republican aides said Monday. There will be no final news conference, just a joint statement quietly issued in the late afternoon, after the U.S. stock markets close, the aides said. […]

Barring a last-second breakthrough, the law calls for a punitive set of $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to kick in at the start of 2013, with half coming from national security budgets.

Programs to protect wildlife and public health have already been cut deeply this year. As detailed in the National Wildlife Federation’s recent Conservation Works report, indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts will go even further. That means:

  • Fewer environmental cops on the beat protecting our air and water and the health of our children. The Clean Air Act prevents 160,000 deaths a year, providing grants to improve air quality in cities like Los Angeles and Houston. And the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds work to clean water for people and wildlife from Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay.
  • More species at risk of extinction. State Wildlife Grants have helped bring once-endangered species like the bald eagle back from the brink.
  • Higher risk of America’s national parks and wildlife refuges falling into disrepair. National parks, wildlife refuges and other sites attracted more than 414 million visitors in 2008, supporting 316,000 jobs in tourism and recreation in all 50 states and generating more than $25 billion in economic activity, according to the Interior Department.

Here’s a chart showing just how sharply conservation programs would be sliced by the automatic cuts. The bottom line of the graph shows how deeply investments in conservation programs would be gutted in 2013, then capping them at low levels for years into the future:

What’s worse, the failure to reach a deal means Congress will pass up the chance to cut some low-hanging deficit fruit. Congress can save more than $100 billion by eliminating wasteful tax giveaways for oil, gas, mining and ethanol special interests.

And unlike controversial cuts to conservation investments, these cuts would be wildly popular. Six Americans in 10 don’t support federal subsidies for oil, gas, coal, natural gas and other fossil fuel companies, according to an October 2011 poll by the Civil Society Institute.

For the average family sitting down to their holiday dinner it makes no sense that we will continue to lavish billions of dollars in subsidies on oil corporations while forcing automatic cuts in vital clean air, clean water, wildlife and other domestic discretionary programs,” says Adam Kolton, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s National Advocacy Center. “It makes no sense that the some of the biggest polluters will feast while we run the risk of cutting deeper into the 1% of the federal budget that funds our national parks, wildlife refuges, clean water and clean air programs.”

Take Action

The automatic cuts won’t take effect for another year, so there’s still time for our members of Congress to override the indiscriminate cuts with a smarter, better deal.

Please take a moment to tell your members of Congress that any deficit deal should protect critical conservation programs and eliminate special interest tax breaks.