Message to deficit supercommittee: protect rural jobs

Oct 18, 2011

The Wilderness Society issues report about getting rural Americans back to work

The Wilderness Society today delivered a report to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that calls on Congress and the Obama administration to protect rural jobs by defending key programs that support public lands. Those programs include the establishment of a renewable energy program that guides development to areas offering high wind and solar potential, and programs that put Americans to work by saving energy.

Coming on the heels of major report released last week demonstrating that conservation, recreation and preservation generate more than $1 trillion a year for the U.S. economy, The Wilderness Society’s job priorities of renewable energy, restoration, and outdoor recreation mark a stark contrast to the chorus of “drill, baby, drill” coming from the oil and gas industry and their supporters in Congress.

“Rural communities have been hit especially hard by the recession, and our public lands offer critical jobs to Americans who need them in the outdoor recreation sector, as well as in helping to restore our forests and generate clean energy,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “No one in Congress should stand in the way of creating more jobs for rural Americans struggling to find work.”

The first phase of Congress’ work to reduce the deficit in August led to cuts to critical environmental programs.  The deficit reduction committee must now use a more balanced approach while finding new cost savings.  “Conservation related spending is only 1% of the federal budget,” said Alan Rowsome, Director of Conservation Funding at The Wilderness Society.  “We can’t balance the budget cutting from these programs, and continuing to go after them will actually cost us money down the road.”

The Wilderness Society has targeted specific areas in the federal budget that the deficit reduction committee must protect and invest in to help get rural America back to work. Some examples include:

Supporting the establishment of a Smart from the Start renewable energy program at DOI that guides development to areas that offer high wind and solar potential with little or no risk to ecologically and culturally important sites. Clean energy investments create 16.7 jobs for every $1 million in spending compared to just 5.3 jobs per $1 million for the fossil fuel industry.

Supporting programs that put Americans to work by saving energy, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, stronger appliance and building energy standards, and financing for energy efficiency investments by homeowners, small businesses, schools and hospitals. National appliance and equipment efficiency standards created 340,000 jobs by 2010. By 2030 efficiency standards can save $68 billion in electricity costs and create 40,000 jobs. Energy efficiency in California alone has created some 1.5 million jobs with a payroll of $45 billion.

Investing in the restoration our forests. The process of restoring our forests moves our country away from an economy based on logging old-growth and roadless forests to one that’s based on restoring the health of our most important forests, rivers and streams. A $1 million restoration project can create and protect up to 29 jobs and contribute over $2.1 million in total economic activity. An investment of $2 million in 19 Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation projects in the State of Montana that generated approximately 35 new jobs, $1.8 million in new contracts, $2.49 million in increased demand for local businesses, and $650,000 in increased wages.

Investing in our booming outdoor recreation economy by backing full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF supports outdoor recreation, natural resource conservation, and historic preservation activities that contribute a minimum of $1.06 trillion annually to the economy, supports 9.4 million jobs that can’t be exported and generates over $100 billion in federal, state and local taxes.  (Link to LWCF economic fact sheet) LWCF funds come not from taxpayer dollars, but from offshore oil and gas royalties, meaning that we can stimulate local jobs through a proven program without raising the deficit.
“As the ‘Supercommittee’ continues to look to ways to cut the deficit and grow the economy, these recommendations should guide them towards future economic growth for rural America, and continued protection and conservation of America’s natural heritage,” said Meadows.

The report was delivered to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on October 18, 2011.

Alan Rowsome