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Editorial: Why the federal budget bill is (mostly) good for the environment

The massive spending bill passed by Congress earlier this month contains myriad provisions. One thing it, fortunately, does not contain is language to block the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s administration’s policy to combat climate change by reducing pollution from power plants.

Overall, the spending package is a mixed bag for the environment. On the plus side — in addition to leaving the Clean Power Plan untouched — it extends tax credits for wind and solar power projects. It also reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important source of money for local recreation projects as well as timberland conservation.

On the negative side of the ledger, it lifts a longstanding ban on U.S. oil exports, perpetuating a fossil fuel-dependent economy and its negative environmental consequences. It also flat-funds the Environmental Protection Agency.

The quick passage of the $1.1 trillion budget bill and an accompanying $650 billion tax package followed months of political grandstanding. Many of the Republicans’ touted provisions — such as ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood and stopping the Clean Power Plan — fell to the more practical concern of avoiding vetoes from Obama and a government shutdown.

Related: Budget deal bill boosts oil exports, renewable energy.

The environmental aspects of the packages showcase the give and take that took place among Democrats and the more conservative elements of the GOP.

The EPA released rules this summer that — for the first time in the United States — put limits on carbon emissions from power plants. The plan is an important part of the country’s strategy to meet climate change targets recently agreed upon in Paris. Republicans in Congress objected to the plan before it was even released and immediately sought ways to stop it.

Sen. Susan Collins was one of only three Republicans in the Senate to vote against a Republican move to block the regulations last month. Sen. Angus King, an independent, also voted against the move, which passed but faced a certain veto from the president. Rather than doom the budget agreement, Republican leaders left their Clean Power Plan-thwarting efforts out of the bill — although the move prompted some conservative western lawmakers who strongly supported the end of the oil export ban to vote against the budget bill.

Democrats also angered conservatives by blocking a Republican effort to stop the Obama administration from contributing U.S. funds to the Green Climate Fund, an international fund in which rich nations pledge money to help poorer countries deal with climate change. The U.S. has pledged $10.2 billion, about half of which it has paid. Although the budget deal doesn’t include money for the fund, it doesn’t keep the administration from taking it from elsewhere in the federal budget.

Another positive is the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded through off-shore oil royalties. One part of the program supports community recreation projects, such as playgrounds, ball fields and swimming pools. Another, Forest Legacy, conserves large tracts of working forestland. Maine is the largest recipient of Forest Legacy funds and has two projects expected to soon receive funds.

And the tax package extended two important renewable energy tax credits, providing needed economic predictability for the development and growth of these renewable energy sources.

The spending bill and tax package, while far from perfect, support overdue efforts to diversify the country’s energy mix and reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change.

This article was from Bangor Daily News, Maine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.