Congress wants to drill its way out of budget deadlines

Legislative provisions to expand drilling along Alaska's coast mean bad news for polar bears that roam sea ice near Kaktovik, Alaska.

apothecary, flickr

With funding for all government functions ending on Oct. 1 and the debt limit expiring again in the middle of the month, Congress has some important decisions to make in the next few weeks. Ultimately these decisions should encompass "must pass” bills but, as with all things in the 113th Congress, it's not that simple.

Let’s start with raising the nation’s debt limit.

It's an unsavory task that all Congresses dealt with at some point, largely without controversy. Its purpose is to allow the United States Treasury to make interest payments on the debts it has already accumulated. Without raising the debt ceiling, the U.S. would default on its bills, bringing untold negative economic consequences around the globe.

Despite the importance of the debt limit, starting in 2011, the House of Representatives have demanded one-sided policy concessions in return for raising it. This time, the House is asking for lots of gifts to the oil and gas industry. As E&E Publishing reports:

"A leadership aide said…that the debt ceiling bill likely would include provisions…which would have barred any rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change and narrowed the Clean Air Act's definition of pollutant to exclude the heat-trapping gasses…The House debt limit bill also is expected to include provisions blocking EPA rules on coal ash disposal… and expanding oil and natural gas companies' ability to drill offshore and on federal lands."

The House is demanding that legislation to raise the debt limit must include provisions to expand drilling along our coasts and on our public lands.

Photo: NASA Goddard

The policy alone is unwise and an unnecessary giveaway to the fossil fuel industry, one that is making billions in profits, and would pollute our air, water and wild lands. But holding the national economy hostage to have this debate is simply foolish. Because these types of provisions are so egregious that they would never pass Congress through normal procedures, the House thinks that hijacking the debt limit is the only way they can get these horrible energy deals.

Let’s review history for a moment to see what happened the last time Congress and President Obama came to blows over this procedural action.

Back in 2011, the House of Representatives and the Obama Administration were trying to make a deal over the federal budget. When they failed, our government’s credit rating was downgraded. The stock market tumbled. Unable to strike a "big deal," Congress was forced to implement "sequestration" meaning that instead of taking responsibility for making tough budget decisions, they made unpopular cuts to all federal programs across the board. America’s public lands took a major hit and everything from wildfire safety to protecting our park rangers was cut to the bone as a result.

These important programs cannot survive these cuts. Wild lands contribute over $1.6 trillion in total economic activity and 12 million U.S. jobs, and provide millions of people with recreation opportunities despite being less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Thus, it is imperative that Congress fund these programs fully in the new fiscal year.

Politics as usual has consumed Congress and Washington, D.C. for three years on spending issues. It has harmed wild lands through budget cuts and the stalling of commonsense energy efficiency legislation, and threatens to consume the debt limit debate with irrelevant and harmful energy provisions. It’s time for Washington to put away the politics and fund the important programs that wild places rely on.

Photo: Raymond Bryson, flickr