Federal Budget Climate Component: Impact on Virginia

Feb 12, 2015

President Obama’s budget revived a debate at the Capitol over energy policy and climate change. 

Flickr user Micolo J
Credit Creative Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As lawmakers like to say, “budgets embody values,” and on the Hill there’s no question over whether the president’s budget shows his values in regards to the nation’s energy sector. He wants to hike clean energy spending by seven percent and offer a myriad of states some four billion dollars if they clean up their air at a quicker pace. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says the budget would be another blow to his southwestern district.      

“The president’s had a war on coal. Those people who don’t live in coal country can claim it’s not a war on coal but it is. And this is just another part of that -- you know, let’s take away these tax credits. He wants to do everything he can while he’s in office to eliminate coal and coal jobs. And unfortunately that means he’s hurting big parts of our economy and particularly the people of central Appalachia.”

Whether there’s a war on coal, a war on warming temperatures, or both, this year’s White House budget rekindled the Capitol Hill debate over global warming for the first time in years. Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Wittman dismisses the budget.

“Well it certainly a political document. Obviously, the House is going to set its course through the development of the budget. It’s an exchange of ideas. You know, there’s a lot of different thoughts about where we go.” 

Wittman says he’s disappointed the president isn’t putting more money into so-called clean coal technologies. 

“If we put the resources into that, in the research and development, I think we can do that and do that very cleanly, very efficiently and do it in ways that help the U.S. economy. So I don’t think we ought to divest in developing our sources of energy.”

The question on the Eastern Shore is different than what southwestern officials are dealing with. The question there isn’t focused on the “energy” from their natural resources. The debate is more about the seas that keep them constantly on guard. Here’s Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott who represents the South Eastern part of the state.

“Well if you look at the problems that are occurring because of climate change in the Hampton Roads area, we’re looking at sea level rise in the next 20 or 30 years at least a foot if not more than that and if you look at what happens when you go up a foot that’s the average when there’s a storm, it’s on top of that.”

Scott says that threatens the state’s military presence.  

“The naval base, many of the residential areas in Norfolk and Newport News, certainly those that chronically flood will be at risk and we have to do something and the president is taking action on that in his budget and hopefully much of that funding will remain and we can address the funding.

Coupled with the president’s call to unwind tax breaks enjoyed by the coal and oil and gas industry, is a proposal to invest more money in advanced manufacturing job training programs. Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says that would bode well in economically depressed regions of the commonwealth.

“As we look to the coal part of our economy which is a dwindling part of Virginia’s economy we need to look at investments that can help diversify that economy and create new opportunities for the people in southwest Virginia.”

But Congressman Griffith says he’s heard these promises before.

“We’ve lost textile. We’ve lost furniture. We’ve lost tobacco. Every time the federal government and others have said, ‘oh we’ll help you transition. We’ll throw a little money in for training.’ Well you’ve got to have the jobs.”

Griffith says you can’t discuss jobs without discussing energy.

“And one of the ways you get advanced manufacturing is you have an affordable energy system that is reliable and affordable. When you start taking away the things that make the American energy system affordable and reliable -- coal, etc -- then you’re making it harder for advanced manufacturing to come into the area.”  

President Obama’s budget marks the start of this year’s budget war. Next up should be the House and Senate budgets, which will give the GOP the chance to outline their priorities for the nation.