Examining the U.S. climate change budget—Part 1

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[Revised September 25]  Is $37 billion in total federal “climate expenditures” over 7 years—for all climate change science research, global observing systems, energy technology R&D related to reducing emissions, international assistance, and alternative energy tax breaks—a lot of money? 

This posting was prepared by the Climate Science Watch research team.

The Bush Administration’s main spokesperson on environmental policy, Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton, appeared at a White House press briefing on September 21 in anticipation of the UN meetings this week on climate change.  There he confidently told reporters, 

“Since 2001, the United States under President Bush, on the taxpayer side of things, has funded $37 billion with the programs oriented toward advancing the science and technology as it relates to energy security and climate change.”

The $37 billion figure first appeared May 31 of this year in an official White House release and “Fact Sheet,” prepared for G8 meetings in Germany, titled “A New International Climate Change Framework” that begins:

“Today, President Bush Announced U.S. Support For An Effort To Develop A New Post-2012 Framework On Climate Change By The End Of 2008. The plan recognizes that it is essential that a new framework include both major developed and developing economies that generate the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and consume the most energy, and that climate change must be addressed in a way that enhances energy security and promotes economic growth.”

Scrolling further down the official White House web page leads to this: 

“The President Has Devoted $37 Billion To Climate Change-Related Activities Since 2001.  The President has requested an additional $7.4 billion for FY 2008 – $205 million more than this year. This amount would support a wide range of climate change-related research, development, and deployment programs, voluntary partnerships, and international aid efforts.”

As multiple heads of state and delegates from nations across the world gather at the United Nations this week to discuss climate change, and as the US prepares for the gathering of “major emitters” planned for Thursday and Friday (Sept 27-28) to talk about solutions to climate change (rumored to include much discussion of voluntary measures), Bush and the Administration’s “PR machine” are quick to let us and the world know that, despite any past indications to the contrary, this President not only takes climate change seriously but has done so all along, as evidenced by all the big spending:  $37 billion we hear is the figure being tossed around.  And furthermore, our President is ready and willing to spend even more – upwards of another $7 billion is in the President’s request to Congress for the 2008 fiscal year.  So, we took a couple of steps back, scratched our heads, reminded ourselves of the magnitude and scope of the climate problem,  and asked ourselves:

How much money is $37 billion these days?

On September 22 the Washington Post reported on an analysis that suggests that the Iraq war is costing the U.S. $720 million a day. The cost estimate, made by the anti-war American Friends Service Committee based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes, includes not only the immediate costs of war but also ongoing factors such as long-term health care for veterans, interest on debt, and replacement of military hardware. The $720 million figure breaks down into $280 million a day from Iraq war supplementary funding bills passed by Congress, plus $440 million daily in incurred, but unpaid, long-term costs. The analysis of the war’s unpaid long-term costs does not include “macro-economic consequences” described by Bilmes and Stiglitz, including higher oil prices, loss of trade because of anti-American sentiments, and lost productivity of killed or injured U.S. soldiers.

Spread over seven years, $37 billion is equivalent to $14.5 million a day.

Another report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, issued this past spring by a blue-ribbon panel of high-ranking admirals and generals, concluded that global climate change presents a serious national security threat which could impact Americans at home, impact United States military operations, and heighten global tensions.  This notion continues to gain credence among policymakers and the public.  The study recommended that we examine federal expenditures on climate change science, de-carbonized energy technology development, and implement mitigation and adaptation measures in the context of the potentially enormous consequences of climate change for society and environmental systems, and in the context of the magnitude and urgency of the project of bringing about a transformation of the energy system. 

Depending on whether one uses the $720 M million a day or the $280 million a day figure from the supplemental appropriations, the entire total climate change-related expenditures claimed by the administration over a seven-year period would equal the cost of 50-130 days of the war. The $7.4 billion claimed for the FY 2008 request would pay for 10-26 days of the war. 

Dissecting the $37 billion “climate-related activities”

Though the $37 billion claim as presented on the official White House website is not referenced, it appears to be based on the annual Office of Management and Budget reports to Congress on climate change expenditures. The most recent is the Fiscal Year 2008 Report to Congress on Federal Climate Change Expenditures, transmitted in May 2007 to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.. An overall summary of these budget items for FY 2003 through the FY 2008 request is presented in this OMB_climate_expenditures_Table_8.pdf adapted from the report. (Title V, Section 585(b) of Public Law 109-102, the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006, as carried forward under Public Law 110-5, requires the President to transmit a report to Congress on climate change expenditures within 60 days after transmittal of the President’s Budget. The President has delegated the responsibility for this report to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.)

The administration includes as climate change expenditures:
o Climate Change Science Program (CCSP)
o Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP)
o International Assistance
o Energy Tax Provisions

The table shows where CEQ chairman Connaughton gets the $7.4 billion total for the FY 2008 request. The total includes $1.8 billion for the CCSP, $3.9 billion for the CCTP, $0.2 billion for International Assistance, and $1.4 for energy-related tax breaks.

The column totals for FY 2003 through FY 2007 add up to $29.34 billion; we presume that the Administration has developed budget estimates for all four categories for FY 2001 and 2002 and that these estimates bring the total to $37 million.  We should note here that the FY 2001 budget was the last one proposed and enacted under the Clinton Administration and was not influenced by Bush.  Setting aside any quibbling with their accounting methodology for the moment, it is more accurate to say that Bush’s true influence on annual budgets is limited to six, not seven, so far (FY 2002 through FY 2007), which brings the overall total climate expenditures claimed closer to a figure of $33 billion.  In addition, the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP), as such, did not have an explicit budget as early as FY 2003, so along with the OMB budget numbers reported for International Assistance and Energy Tax Provisions, these expenditures describe activities that were already ongoing before Bush took office, and not part of any focused administration effort. 

Connaughton’s “$37 billion” number appears to be a “talking points” rhetorical device designed to create the impression that the administration is allocating a lot of funding to dealing with climate change. We consider this to be a misleading impression. We believe this Administration has eroded funding for scientific research and global observing systems; given a higher priority to coal and nuclear than to renewable energy and energy efficiency tehcnologies; scaled back international assistance; and consistently opposed robust, market-shaping tax breaks for clean, renewable sources while continuing multi-billion dollar subsidies for fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas).   

Subsequent posts will analyze the historical trends of the Climate Change Science Program, the first of the four major categories that comprise the $37 billion, and for the Climate Change Technology Program,  International Assistance, and Energy Tax Provisions (including tax subsidies not included in the OMB report for the fossil fuel and nuclear industries in the US.)

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