President Biden’s “Skinny” Budget Request Highlights Goals for Climate, Conservation, and Equity

Initial budget proposal includes major investments in reducing emissions, restoring habitat, building equity, and climate resilience.
American Goldfinch. Lynn Cleveland/Audubon Photography Awards

After months of anticipation, the Biden Administration recently released an overview of its fiscal year 2022 discretionary budget request. While the President’s budget is only a request to Congress, it informs Congress drafting of annual spending bills.

This initial request outlines Administration priorities and suggests it is poised to invest in climate action (with a “whole of government” approach), conservation, and social justice. The budget overview includes significant increases for important conservation agencies, including the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce (including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)), as well as increases for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These federal departments oversee projects and programs that benefit birds, habitat, and communities throughout the country.

“Birds are telling us we need to invest in natural resources and climate action”, says Sarah Greenberger, Senior Vice President for Conservation Policy. “We’re hopeful the strong initiatives and topline funding numbers included in this budget draft will be reflected in the final budget sent to Congress.”

The President’s “skinny” budget request is light on line-item and programmatic funding requests normally included in a full budget, but provides a blueprint, including topline spending amounts at the department level and for some major federal agencies. The budget preview forges ahead with the theme of “Build Back Better” – President Biden’s slogan for his plans to rebuild America’s economy in the post-pandemic era. In addition to, and alongside, the American Jobs Plan, released on March 31, 2021, the Administration’s budget preview outlines opportunities to revitalize our economy by restoring ecosystems and rebuilding communities. The appropriations process and the infrastructure packages currently being debated in Congress are meant to complement one another.

Almost every agency’s budget request has a climate change component included, with a strong emphasis on treating the transition to a greener economy as an opportunity to create good-paying jobs that will grow the economy well into the future. Specific agency highlights include:

  • An increase of 21% for the Environmental Protection Agency
  • An increase of 10% for the Department of Energy
  • An Increase of 16% for the Department of the Interior

Despite the deep slashes proposed by the Trump Administration, Congress has continued to fund conservation priorities, with increases for a number of programs. Audubon is glad to see this renewed commitment from the White House to fund these critical natural resource agencies. In addition, specific program highlights include:

  • $6.9 billion for NOAA, which conducts climate research, builds coastal resilience, and provides climate tools and data for decision-makers;
  • $3.6 billion for water infrastructure, including drinking water infrastructure;
  • $1.7 billion for energy saving retrofits to homes, schools, and Federal buildings;
  • $815 million to incorporate climate impacts into pre-disaster planning and projects; and
  • $450 million to remediate and reclaim orphan oil and gas wells and mines.

National Audubon Society will continue advocating for these clean energy initiatives as well as additional important bird priorities in the FY22 appropriations bills. Last year, Audubon published our first “Bird Budget” which highlighted federal funding opportunities to protect birds, ranging from clean energy investments to habitat conservation to coastal restoration initiatives.

In order to bring birds back, Congress needs to increase funding for important programs like the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and efforts that support Greater Sage-Grouse conservation. In addition, specific geographic conservation efforts like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Delaware River Basin restoration, and Everglades restoration promote on-the-ground conservation projects funded through federal dollars. Funding for drought response, cooperative watershed management, and aquatic ecosystem restoration programs will help address the ongoing mega-drought impacting communities and wildlife throughout the West. We’re hopeful to see increased funding for NOAA programs like Coastal Management Grants and Marine Sanctuaries and Protected Areas.

On the clean energy front, Audubon continues to advocate for increased research, development, demonstration, and deployment in renewable energy – including increased funding for Solar and Wind programs in the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and increased funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which works with private industry to advance high-impact energy technologies.

In addition to clean energy, land and water conservation, and coastal restoration, Audubon supports a range of natural infrastructure funding opportunities in the appropriations process. Just like roads and bridges, our natural landscapes—like wetlands, beaches, and barrier islands—act like infrastructure, providing critical services to our communities. They serve as recreational spaces, enhance our resilience to climate threats like increasing flooding and drought, and improve habitats for birds and other wildlife. Congress has a historic opportunity to harness America’s immense natural wealth in efforts to support the economy while also addressing both the causes and consequences of climate change.

The decline in bird populations is directly linked to climate change; the appropriations process highlights opportunities for Congress to fund conservation and climate programs that will slow and reverse the damage done to birds and their ecosystems. We urge the Biden Administration to follow-through with these conservation commitments in its full budget proposal, and we similarly urge Congress to ensure conservation programs are fully funded for the FY22 fiscal year.