The National Journal recently asked nine opinion leaders what's at stake for the environment as Washington's budget cuts, aka sequestration, go into effect. Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams weighed in. You can read his response below and find the full article at National Journal.
Cut oil tax breaks – not conservation
The cuts from sequestration to the environmental and clean energy programs in the federal budget will be severe, closing visitor centers in national parks, curtailing law enforcement in national forests, and hamstringing endangered species recovery on national wildlife refuges.
Conservation makes up a scant fraction of the federal budget – a whopping 1.26% of the total. But the economic impact of those programs is huge, and cuts across many aspects of the economy. Outdoor recreation, which is reliant on wild public lands, supports more than 6 million direct jobs, and has an economic ripple effect impact of over 1 trillion dollars.
Also threatened by sequestration are things that the American people currently get for free, like fresh air and clean water. National forests are the headwaters for water supplies for more than 60 million Americans, and cuts to programs keeping them healthy threaten both the supply and the quality of that water. All told, the benefits from a healthy environment are more than $1.6 trillion – well worth the small relatively investment in federal dollars to keep our forests healthy.
Rather than cutting the budget across the board, Congress should be looking at cutting outdated and unnecessary tax expenditures for fossil fuels and other wasteful tax breaks. A coalition of environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, have identified more than $760 billion in additional tax revenue that should be put towards lessening the cuts to conservation. (read the report Losing Our Heritage: Budget Cuts and the Environment)
The benefits from America’s wild places far outweigh their meager costs. It’s time stop trying to balance the budget on the back of conservation, and instead look at protecting the benefits we receive from our wild places.