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Washington Watch: As another wildfire sends Colorado scurrying, Biden wants 19% spending boost for Interior Department and 29% bump for EPA

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President Joe Biden is seeking congressional budget approval for spending he argues can fortify how the government prevents devastating wildfires and takes other steps to limit and respond to climate change.

Monday’s budget request for all agencies hits just as a weekend wildfire near Boulder, Colo., forced almost 20,000 people to evacuate their homes just a few miles from where the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 suburban homes last December. The ask also comes as the U.S. joins other nations in a rethink of reliance on gas
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and oil from Russia and other parts of the world subject to geopolitical risks, with some pushing for more homegrown wind and solar
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and others saying now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to produce its own fossil-fuel energy sources.

Read: Key regulator makes concession for natural gas as Russia-sparked U.S. energy and climate concerns fester

For the Interior Department, the agency that oversees the nation’s 500 million acres of public lands, Biden is requesting $17.5 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion, or 19%, from what was approved for 2021.

Over one-quarter of Interior’s requested funding — $5 billion — would go to climate change programs, including $375 million for scientific research programs on the impact of climate change and $325 million to reduce the risk of wildfires and restore burned land.

The proposal for agency spending comes as the Biden administration’s primary legislative push to help curb global warming, promote alternative energy and encourage the switch from combustion engine to electric vehicles is stalled in Congress. On top of that, a legal challenge to the EPA’s authority to compel industries to reduce planet-warming pollution hangs in the balance in the Supreme Court.

In all, Biden is proposing a total of $5.8 trillion in federal spending in fiscal 2023, which begins in October. The higher taxes targeted to pay for the spending would raise $361 billion in revenue over 10 years and apply to the top 0.01% of households. The proposal lists another $1.4 trillion in revenue raised over the next decade through other tax increases but still in keeping with Biden’s pledge to not hike taxes on people earning less than $400,000.

The climate funding pitch includes $254 million to expand the development of wind, solar and geothermal energy on public lands, an increase of $151 million from the 2021 enacted level. And it includes $321 million create jobs to clean up and repurpose abandoned oil and gas well sites.

Notably, the Interior Department will continue its long track record of leasing and permitting oil and gas drilling on public lands, a controversial feature of the Biden approach to energy.

The budget requests $1.4 billion for the agency’s Bureau of Land Management, which oversees that drilling, and $237 million for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore drilling. The agency would also spend $4.5 billion to help tribal nations, $1 billion above the 2021 enacted level.

As for other climate change spending, the budget blueprint seeks $11.8 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, an increase of $2.6 billion, or 29%, from the 2021 fiscal year.

The proposed increase is significant because the Trump administration had targeted the EPA for sharp budget cuts, particularly to its climate change and environmental justice programs.

“Almost half of the Budget announced today, $5.7 billion, will support Tribes, states, and localities, reaffirming EPA’s commitment to work in concert with our partners and local communities to tackle the climate crisis and ensure that no American family has to worry about the air they breathe, the water they drink, or the environmental safety of their homes and workplaces,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. 

The EPA request devotes $773 million toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions. It also puts an emphasis on helping disadvantaged communities struggling with disproportionate levels of air and water pollution by proposing $1.45 billion for several programs, including $100 million in new spending for air monitoring.

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