NRDC warns of effects of fiscal cliff on the environment

02/05/13 Seán Kinane
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The U.S. Congress reached an agreement at the end of last year to temporarily avoid what was being called the fiscal cliff of automatic spending cuts and tax increases. But they just put aside the stand-off until the end of this month. The Natural Resources Defense Council is warning that if the deep cuts go through it could negatively affect clean air and water. WMNF’s Seán Kinane spoke with Scott Slesinger, director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The fiscal cliff, people think was solved on January 1st but all they really did was do a temporary fix that will delay the cliff until March 1st. So on March 1st there's going to be arbitrary across the board cuts in good and bad programs that will really devastate programs that protect our air, our water, and our environment."

Give us an example of how it would affect the water, the environment, the air, and national parks.

"Let's start with the national parks. Many of our parks are not open all year. They rely on seasonal labor. People who are there when the crowds are around. It's going to be very hard for the Park Service to hire those temporary workers when their budget is being slashed so much. Some of the parks we expect will close or have very limited hours. This will have a ripple effect. Our parks and the tourism that surrounds the parks bring in over $650 billion in revenue so the impact is not just putting our parks at risk because we're not going to be protecting them but we also are going to hurt the economy."

Instead of cuts only, you're proposing additional revenues. What kind of revenues are you talking about?

"The tax code has had over 300 amendments since 1986. These are loopholes for large corporations, for millionaires and billionaires so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes. It's better for them to hire a lobbyist and not pay their taxes. We need to close those loopholes. Probably the most obvious to us are those tax incentives that hurt the environment such as $8 billion for the oil industry. Why, in god's name are we giving $8 billion of federal taxpayers money to the richest companies in the world? We can get rid of these loopholes and provide the government that people need to protect our air, our water, allow our air traffic controllers to protect our skies."

Some cuts have been proposed in the Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency and research and development, what do those programs do right now and how would cuts affect that?

"We're beginning slowly to move towards greener energy and the research that this office does has made really great strides to provide for wind and solar to really get up and going in this country and really begin to contribute. Cutbacks in this office are clearly going to hurt moving forward in making us less dependent on foreign oil. That really seems to be a foolish strategy going forward with all of the untapped resources particularly in a state like Florida for solar power. The state of Florida got a huge part of it's water and sewer improvement money from the federal government. Those programs are going to take a disproportionately large cut which will make it more difficult for communities in Florida to provide clean drinking water or sewage treatment. The alternative is either these waters are going to be more contaminated or the other alternative is that local water fees are going to skyrocket."

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