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The Insider

Novel Environmental Policy, Funding Battles Continue Despite Pandemic

While the coronavirus pandemic dominates headlines, lawmakers and stakeholders are still waging fights over novel environmental policy and funding issues unrelated to the virus, including green technology budget battles and environmentalists’ plans for the 50th Earth Day.

Inside EPA’s Environment Next has coverage of the ongoing battles over new approaches to environmental protection and how the government could support the development of new technologies that could aid clean energy, environmental quality and biodiversity.

Environment Next is a free service to our subscribers featuring wide-ranging looks at coming developments for environmental protection and policy, including interviews, in-depth reporting and profiles of key figures, companies and other groups that are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate change. The features offer a new way of reporting about the shift from command-and-control regulation to innovative, market-based measures and other efforts, including voluntary programs and government action outside EPA’s orbit.

This week, we wrote about the ongoing battles over fiscal year 2021 funding for environmental work outside EPA, starting with the Trump administration’s latest bid to cut the Department of Energy (DOE) office responsible for research into advanced clean-energy technology:

House Appropriators Say Trump FY21 Bid To End ARPA-E ‘Non-Starter’
Members of the House Appropriations Committee panel overseeing the Energy Department’s (DOE) budget say President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 request to end funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is a “non-starter.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly submitted spending bills to Congress that would slash the budgets of DOE programs supporting clean energy research and development, including the FY21 proposal to cut the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program’s funding by 74 percent, all as part of Trump’s bid to cut overall government funding.

But there are no indications that even House Republicans will go along with that plan. At a recent appropriations hearing, energy subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) said previous DOE spending had produced “great benefits” and pledged that Congress “will make significant changes to this budget as it has in the past."

Meanwhile, environmentalists are urging Democrats to boost funding for environmental goals beyond immediate pollution reductions, including climate change but also more novel goals like biodiversity protection:

Environmentalists Urge House To Hike FY21 Climate, Biodiversity Funds
Environmentalists are calling on House appropriators to significantly hike fiscal year 2021 funding for clean energy and foreign aid programs they see as vital to advance climate and biodiversity goals, saying the White House’s FY21 request falls far short of the necessary spending.

We also covered debates among stakeholders, especially in the finance sector, who are looking to the pandemic crisis as a marker for how ready they are for future disasters, especially climate change.

For instance, officials from the financial analytics firm Entelligent, CEO Thomas H. Stoner Jr., and board chairman David Schimel, wrote in a recent opinion piece that the sudden economic shutdowns and social distancing needed to combat the spread of COVID-19 make a good parallel to the measures needed to respond to climate change:

COVID-19 Could Pose Tests For Institutions’ Climate Readiness
Finance analytics officials say government and industry responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic represents a trial run for whether institutions will respond to future impacts of climate change with necessary “sweeping policy changes.”

“[I]n effect, these events are acting like a grand natural experiment that simulates what will happen in the future when governments make the sweeping policy changes that will be needed to head off dangerous climate change. Changes such as carbon taxes, bigger subsidies to renewables, and tougher regulation on land use or energy efficiency,” the two wrote at MarketWatch.

And environmentalists organizing for the 50th Earth Day on April 22 say that even after the pandemic forced them to shift to a digital format, the nature of the crisis and governments’ responses to it show the need for close focus on boosting resilience to future disasters:

Environmentalists Say Pandemic Shows Need For Earth Day Advocacy
Environmentalists say the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and politicians’ responses to the crisis show the need for plans to hold Earth Day campaigns calling on governments to address climate change, even though rallies and other in-person gatherings are being canceled and shifted to online advocacy efforts.

“Obviously this is a moment when so many people around the country and the world are really suffering and dealing with health and economic difficulties. But I think a key part for people to understand is that at least in the U.S. part of the solution our government is proposing is handouts to the fossil-fuel industry. . . . It’s kind of the like the upside-down version of what we really need,” Moira Birss, climate and finance director for the rainforest protection group Amazon Watch, said on a March 24 press call on various groups’ Earth Day agendas.