Obama's Budget Goes All-In on Climate Change

EPA spending, clean energy, state incentives, and mitigation all emerge as priorities.

President Obama is going all-in on his climate action plan, unveiling on Monday a multibillion-dollar push for states to start cutting emissions faster than required and millions to deal with extreme weather.

Obama is calling for a slight budget increase for the Environmental Protection Agency -- from $8.1 billion enacted to $8.6 billion -- emphasizing the agency's plan to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from new and existing power plants.

The proposal also continues the administration's adaptation to extreme weather events that become more frequent with climate change. "The failure to invest in climate solutions and climate preparedness does not just fly in the face of the overwhelming judgment of science -- it is fiscally unwise," the budget plan released Monday by the White House states.

The documents emphasize the financial risk that climate change poses to federal programs and infrastructure, building on previous agency-by-agency reports about climate risks. According to the budget, the federal government has taken on more than $300 billion in direct costs from the effects of extreme weather, such floods, wildfires, and crop losses.

Obama's overall climate plan funding is spread across multiple agencies, with separate proposals for mitigation, energy development, flooding adaptation, agricultural adaptation, and protection of public lands.

A new Clean Power State Incentive Fund would provide $4 billion to states that are ahead of the minimum requirements for the Clean Power Plan, set to be finalized this summer. That money could be used for climate adaptation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and infrastructure grants, according to budget documents.

The budget also proposes to boost federal spending on clean-energy technology, with $7.4 billion being invested across the Energy and Defense departments. That's up from the $6.5 billion that Congress spent this year for clean-energy programs, according to the White House. Among the specific programs targeted are advanced vehicles, energy-efficient vehicles, and carbon capture and storage from fossil fuels. Within that spending, the administration also boosts DOE research into clean energy, with targeted increases for research and development of alternative-fuel vehicles, energy efficiency, and advanced manufacturing and renewable power.

Another roughly $100 million would be dedicated to permitting renewable-energy projects on federal lands and waters, with a goal of permitting 20 gigawatts of renewables by 2020.

The administration is calling for the permanent renewal of key renewable-energy tax credits such as the production tax credit and credits for wind and solar projects, which were allowed to lapse at the end of 2013 and were given only a brief reprieve in 2014. It also calls for tax credits for renewable diesel and biodiesel, for the construction of green homes, and for vehicle fleets using renewable fuels.

All told, the Energy Department would see a slight bump, with funding proposed at $29.9 billion compared to $27.3 billion in fiscal 2015.

Ahead of United Nations international climate negotiations in Paris, the administration proposed $1.29 billion in spending on international climate programs, including $500 million to help launch a new contribution to the international Green Climate Fund. That's the start of a $3 billion, multiyear investment for the program, which leverages public and private finance to developing countries. The international spending also continues a George W. Bush administration contribution to the Global Climate Change Initiative.

Congressional Republicans are sure to target the international spending -- the "cromnibus" spending bill that passed in December blocked spending on the Green Climate Fund, although that bill ultimately came before the administration had proposed to begin its investment.

On the climate-adaption front, the proposed budget calls for two new coastal resilience programs: a $50 million grant program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for risk assessment and a separate $50 million Interior Department program to restore ecosystems at risk of flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's pre-disaster-mitigation grant program would also see a $175 million increase over current levels for a total proposal of $200 million.

The budget also proposes $400 million for National Flood Insurance Program risk mapping, an increase of $184 million over current levels, which would advance an executive order issued last week requiring federal projects to account for future flood risk.