President Donald Trump will find the job of reining in spending on climate initiatives made harder by an Obama-era policy of dispersing billions of dollars in programs across dozens of agencies — in part so they couldn’t easily be cut.
There is no single list of those programs or their cost, because President Barack Obama sought to integrate climate programs into everything the federal government did. The goal was to get all agencies to take climate into account, and also make those programs hard to disentangle, according to former members of the administration. In some cases, the idea was to make climate programs hard for Republicans in Congress to even find.
“Much of the effort in the Obama administration was to mainstream climate change,” said Jesse Keenan, who worked on climate issues with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and now teaches at Harvard University. He said all federal agencies were required to incorporate climate-change plans into their operations.
The Obama administration’s approach will be tested by Trump’s first budget request to Congress, an outline of which is due to be released Thursday. Trump has called climate change a hoax; last November he promised to save $100 billion over eight years by cutting all federal climate spending. His budget will offer an early indication of the seriousness of that pledge — and whether his administration is able to identify programs that may have intentionally been called anything but climate-related.
The last time the Congressional Research Service estimated total federal spending on climate was in 2013. It concluded 18 agencies had climate-related activities, and calculated $77 billion in spending from fiscal 2008 through 2013 alone.
But that figure could well be too low. The Obama administration didn’t always include “climate” in program names, said Alice Hill, director for resilience policy on Obama’s National Security Council.
“Given the relationship that existed with Congress on the issue of climate change, you will not readily find many programs that are entitled ‘climate change,’” Hill, who is now a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said in an interview. At the Department of Defense, for example, anything with the word climate would have been “a target in the budget process,” she said.
The range of climate programs is vast, stretching across the entire government.