Well, here we are in budget season again. Politically, this time of year gets pretty contentious: every government program goes on the chopping block, and anyone who supports new programs is accused of being a big-government apologist. (For example, have you heard about the conservative push to completely cut off funding for Planned Parenthood? You might want to check it out.) This time, though, President Obama blew against the wind and called for a brand new initiative to conserve America's outdoors, somewhat unimaginatively calling it the America’s Great Outdoors initiative. (Read the text of his announcement here.)
Specifically, he wants to hire young people to work in parks and wetlands, in a new program called the 21st-Century Conservation and Service Corps. It's modeled after to the Peace Corps or Americorps, (which, by the way, was completely cut in the latest Republican budget proposal.)
How's he going to pay for it all? Well, the press release was a little confusing on that point, but it appears he's going to try to do it without adding to the deficit. Most of the money he's proposing to spend is coming from existing taxes on the oil industry. (Obama: "Our attitude is if you take something out of the Earth, you have a responsibility to give a little bit back to the Earth.") These dollars are supposed to be channeled to environmental uses, largely through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but have historically been diverted to other programs.
Regardless, the GOP unsurprisingly opposes the initiative as unnecessary additional spending. Some elements within Congress are actually pushing to eliminate the LWCF altogether.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, it’s good to see the environment among other major budget concerns. After the climate change bill died in committee last year, there has been little environmental activity in Washington other a tug-of-war regarding how much authority the Environmental Protection Agency has to regulate greenhouse gases. But now, whether or not Obama manages to deliver everything that the initiative proposes, Mother Nature has entered the building.