WASHINGTON — Federal funding for programs that aim to reduce the effects of climate change increased by $4.4 billion from 2010 through 2017, according to the Office of Management and Budget. But a congressional watchdog said this week that OMB is exaggerating that spending by including programs only “tangentially related” to climate change.
In addition, OMB’s spending reports to Congress don’t provide information on federal programs whose costs are expected to rise as a result of climate change, like disaster assistance, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional agency. That makes it difficult for Congress to assess the costs of climate change when considering proposed budgets, the report said.
The GAO recommends that the OMB disclose more details on spending related to climate change to lawmakers.
“Understanding these fiscal exposures would provide important information on the long-term effects of decisions to policymakers,” said Jose Gomez, GAO’s director of natural resources and environment.
Led by Director Mick Mulvaney, OMB staff said they have “limited capacity and knowledge to assess climate change risks and predict future expenditures on an annual basis, due to the inherent uncertainty in climate projections,” according to the report.
“Staff said that its prior assessments of climate change risks were resource-intensive and reflect (the Obama) administration’s priorities,” the report said.
But the GAO said OMB is, in fact, capable of disclosing more information when reporting climate change spending to Congress. Such details were included in OMB’s 2016 and 2017 Analytical Perspectives reports on the president’s budget, the GAO said.
OMB did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning at the Environmental Defense Fund, served as a senior OMB official under President Bill Clinton. He said that he understands the hesitancy to directly attribute storms or other disasters to climate change, especially before they happen, to anticipate future spending.
“Determining how much of the cost of a natural disaster can be truly attributed to climate change is basically a game of ‘choose your science,’” said Holstein. “The current administration prefers to say hurricanes and other severe storms have always happened, and that climate change has little or nothing to do with them, where as many in the science community are asserting that climate change is worsening our weather.”
He predicted OMB will not comply with the recommendation.
“The Trump administration is not anxious to have departments and agencies coming forward with laundry lists of anticipated or actual climate impacts because it undermines their assertion that the science is unclear, that the jury is still out,” he said. “More of the administration putting its head in the sand.”
President Trump has dismissed climate change as a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese to gain a competitive edge over the United States.
A champion of the coal industry, Trump has followed through on his vow to undo the climate change agenda implemented under Obama by pulling out of the Paris Accord and withdrawing the Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute that its website says “questions global warming alarmism,” applauded Trump for dismantling Obama-era climate regulations in nearly every agency. Those rollbacks will save money in the long run, he said. On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency submitted a proposal to OMB that would officially lower fuel emissions standards aimed at limiting carbon pollution, which contributes to climate change.
But Ebell supports the GAO recommendation that OMB should provide more information to Congress when reporting funding for climate change programs.
“I hope they will (comply with the recommendation) because better accounting and more transparency is a good idea,” said Ebell. “I think it would be not only good for Congress to know but for the public to know.”