Budget 09: How’d the Environment Do – the Ugly

We have finally reached the end of the track and there are only two things left to cover; the Great Lakes and the Arctic. It has been very US-centric, and even though I’m the Australian on the team, it seemed like the right focus to take. Industry leaders and big-business all focus their attention on the US; global politics revolves around the US. It made sense.

And apparently in an attempt to live up to their “Top of the Pile” syndrome the US also feels they must be the foremost in screwing the world over.

We’ve looked at the small amount of good to come out of the budget, but it weighed in as a negligible amount compared to what they didn’t do, or in many cases, reversed. The EPA took one of the biggest hits, even though some are trying to press the view that the $2.4 million for Environmental Protection Enforcement as one of the bonuses in the budget; if anything, it is a slap in the face.

And while I touched on what the EPA lost out on, I want to focus for a second on what the environment will lose out as a result.

In short, the current White House’s view of the Great Lakes must be dim indeed, if the 16% slash for the Great Lakes water quality programs is any indication. Environmentalists and advocacy groups have expressed their collective disappointment at Bush’s dismal display. “The White House budget fails the Great Lakes and the millions of people who depend on them for their jobs and their way of life,” said Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.

Furthermore, according to a coalition representing shippers, ports and other Great Lakes industries, Bush is going to cut the Army Corps of Engineers budget for dredging to keep the lakes’ navigation channels open by 35%. “The lakes are already suffering with extremely low water levels,” said Patrick J. O’Hern, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force. “Now is the worst imaginable time for any reduction in Great Lakes dredging funds.”

There seems to be a collective sort of resigned defeatism creeping into many of the environmental groups. In what is either a show of party solidarity or simple exhaustion many spokesmen and women are announcing they’ll push on. “We’d like all of our projects to be funded every year,” Lynn Duerod, spokeswoman for the Army Corps, said. “However, we’ll work with whatever we get.”

Another who seems to have just worn tired of pointing out the obvious is EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, who definitely tried to put the best face on his agency’s budget reduction by saying he recognized “the challenge of managing in a time of tight fiscal constraints.”

“President Bush’s budget request will continue to deliver environmental results today, as well as keep EPA on course to deliver a cleaner, healthier tomorrow,” said Johnson.

But possibly one of the most damaging decisions made by George W. Bush’s last budget in office is the decision to open drilling access to oil and natural gas reserves in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (AANWR).

Their raison d’être is that, apparently, it will provide $7 billion in leasing fees from energy companies. Oh good; a price on ecological sustainability.

The budget calls to open 7% of ANNWR to drilling, with the belief that it holds between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil. If it were open to drilling, it would also take about eight years before the area reached full production of just under a million barrels per day. That all adds up to the possibility that in a minimum 23 years we could have exhausted the reserves, and destroyed a natural beauty.

Seriously people, have we so become a people living for ourselves and ourselves alone that we are willing to bet the future of a fragile ecosystem on a few years worth of energy. Is dependency on such fuel so high that we must honestly wage war against our own environment; a decision that will effectively rule out a healthy environment down the track?

At what point are we putting our lives against those of our descendants? At what point are we being selfish with our planets resources to the point that we eliminate our future?

This all reminds me of a lot of science fiction that I read/watch. Time travel is a fantastic story element, but as Homer Simpson found out, even the tiniest action can cause changes down the timeline. I see that what we are doing is similar to that scenario; that our actions now are causing consequences down the line that will eventually see drastic irreversible changes take place.

I’ll end the rant there, and with it this three part series; Budget 09: How’d the Environment Do – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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