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Fiscal Cliff Deal and Its Impact on the Environment
By Tyler Collins

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 passed by Congress on January 1st and signed into law almost immediately by President Obama, delayed a scheduled 8.2% cut to non-defense discretionary spending until March 1, 2013.

On top of skirting major budget cuts, this legislation avoided some of the most harmful aspects of the “fiscal cliff” while extending financial incentives for some environmentally beneficial programs. Here are some of the key environmental issues addressed by the fiscal cliff deal:

Wind power:  The legislation included a one-year extension of the production tax credit (PTC), worth 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity. This provision prevented the elimination of an estimated 37,000 American jobs.

Biofuels:  Several financial incentives were extended for U.S. biofuel producers. The new law also specified that algae is an acceptable feedstock for production of biofuels.

Energy efficiency:  The law extends a number of tax credits that encourage more sustainable energy consumption and reduce the cost of energy-efficient home appliances.

Alternative-fuel vehicles:  A tax credit for two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles and a tax credit on refueling property for alternative-energy vehicles has been extended through December 31, 2013.

Arguably the most significant component of the deal relates to conservation and protection of the country’s natural resources and environment.

According to the National Resources Defense Council’s fiscal cliff report, the National Forest System includes 193 million acres of wilderness, spanning from temperate and tropical forests to wetlands, grasslands and tundra. In addition to generating $14.5 billion in annual public recreation, national forest lands account for 20% of U.S. drinking water supply, valued at $27 billion per year by the U.S. Forest Service. Another 345 million people visit U.S. national parks and wildlife refuges every year, supporting 292,000 jobs and $35.2 billion in economic activity.

The temporary tabling of spending cuts at federal environmental agencies like the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Environmental Protection Agency significantly reduces the environmental and economic impacts of the fiscal cliff.

“Today, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief… furloughed workers, closed national parks, and dirtier air and water won’t solve our economic woes,” said Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The nation needs a balanced plan that recognizes a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.”

First Affirmative couldn’t agree more.

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Posted: January 18, 2013