Budget-weary states cut green funding
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Kai Ryssdal: The Obama administration’s economic program isn’t all banks, bailouts and budgets. Vice President Joe Biden heads to Philadelphia tomorrow. He’ll be leading the first meeting of a White House task force on revitalizing the middle class. And the very first order of business is going to be how green jobs might help do that. The stimulus package has billions in it for alternative energy. But while the Feds are ramping up on green, the states are busy pulling back.
As Sarah Gardner reports now from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.
SARAH GARNDER: This year, 46 states have budget deficits, some of them huge. Legislators are scrambling to close the gaps. That means programs that were widely supported in good times are suddenly vulnerable. Like New York state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
NED SULLIVAN: This is a critical fund.
Ned Sullivan heads the non-profit Scenic Hudson. He says New York’s fund pays for everything from preserving farmland to treating wastewater. But legislators just slashed the fund’s budget 20 percent and could cut more. For one, that means less money to buy land for parks and recreation along the Hudson River.
SULLIVAN: And yet this is a time when real estate prices have come down, when we could move forward with critical land preservation projects that would preserve the must-save lands along the Hudson.
On the West Coast, in California, clean air rules fell victim to the state budget crisis. California requires a near-impossible two-thirds majority to pass a state budget. So Republicans demanded and won some controversial concessions, not all related to the state budget, according to Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California. They included a delay in new rules requiring builders to retrofit bulldozers and other soot-spewing equipment. Diesel emissions are linked to both heart and lung disease.
BILL MAGAVERN: Particulate emissions from diesel exhaust are much more dangerous than people used to think that they were. We’re finding out more and more and as the chair of California’s Air Resources Board has said, people will die because of this delay in cleaning up diesel pollution.
California and New York have plenty of company. Adam Shafer watches legislation from his perch at the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. He says environmental rollbacks and budget cuts are happening in many states right now.
ADAM SHAFER: We saw this back in 2001 when states had a shortfall at that time and environmental budgets were on the chopping block as well.
The deja vu includes campaigns by pro-business lawmakers to relax permitting rules for new development. That debate Is underway in states like Florida. There, Republicans are pushing for less state regulation in order to stimulate the economy and create jobs. State Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton, Fla., is one of them.
SEN. MIKE BENNETT: Here is the perfect opportunity to cleanse our system. Why does it take seven years of engineering and planning to start a road construction project? It just doesn’t make sense.
The flood of federal stimulus money coming to the states could temper the effects of state cuts. Take California — It’s delaying pollution rules for bulldozers and such. But Adam Shafer points out the state will get federal money for retrofits on diesel school buses and commercial trucks. Sierra Club’s Bill Magavern, isn’t happy about the mixed signals.
MAGAVERN: The federal stimulus package will help in certain areas, but it will not repair all of the damage done by our state budget process.
Magavern says California budget negotiators did resist one Republican demand that certainly would have made national headlines. Delaying the implementation of the state’s landmark law that caps greenhouse gas emissions.
I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.
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