Policy Studies Governance

Green Scissors 2011


Eli Lehrer

Report Partners

Heartland Institute, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and Public Citizen.

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Green Scissors strives to make environmental and fiscal responsibility a priority in Washington. For more than 16 years, Green Scissors has exposed subsidies and programs that both harm the environment and waste taxpayer dollars. The campaign has built a strong case that the federal government can protect our natural resources, reduce the growth of government spending, and make a significant dent in the national debt. Building on last year’s detailed cut lists, Green Scissors 2011 identifies more than $380 billion in wasteful government subsidies that are damaging to the environment and harming taxpayers.

Wasteful government spending comes in many different forms. The most obvious are direct spending on discretionary programs and mandatory programs such as commodity crop payments. Slightly less transparent are tax expenditures, privileges written into the tax code, or below market giveaways of government resources like timber and hardrock minerals. Even more opaque is preferential government financing for harmful projects through bonding loans, long term contracting authority and loan guarantees, and risk reduction through government insurance and liability caps.

Some subsidies are difficult to calculate but have enormous costs to taxpayers. For example, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 caps industry liability for offshore drilling accidents at a paltry $75 million, but they can cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon spill has already topped $6.8 billion. Another example is the cost of lost oil and gas revenues due to low royalty rates and industry underreporting. Despite the difficulty in determining the exact loss or calculating the final price tag, these types of subsidies need to be eliminated as well.

With the federal government facing a $1.65 trillion deficit and $14.6 trillion debt, Green Scissors’ agenda is more critical than ever. The nation’s deficit and debt have not gone unnoticed by the president, Congress or the public, many of whom have called for fiscal restraint in Washington. In fact, members of both parties are looking for ways to solve our nation’s budget crisis. Often programs targeted at conserving our natural resources are the first on the chopping block, but Green Scissors shows us a way to help the environment by spending less.

This year’s Green Scissors report offers lawmakers and the public a starting place for spending reductions, including cuts to discretionary, mandatory and tax spending that also increase environmental protection. Perhaps even more importantly, Green Scissors 2011 offers a roadmap for how Congress can bridge the gap between ideologically diverse perspectives to begin moving towards deficit reduction in a productive fashion. Green Scissors 2011 represents the interests of four varied groups: Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, Taxpayers for Common Sense and The Heartland Institute. While all four groups have different missions, histories, goals and ideas about the role of government, we all agree that we can begin to overcome our nation’s budgetary and environmental woes by tackling spending that is not only wasteful, but environmentally harmful.

To get our nation’s spending in check we will need to end wasteful programs and policies. They not only cost us up front, but also create additional financial liabilities down the road and threaten our nation’s fragile land, air and water. In addition, we need to ensure that we receive a fair return on government assets. From the more than a century old 1872 Mining Law that gives away precious metals — like gold and copper — on federal lands for free, to $53 billion in lost oil and gas revenues from royalty free leases in federal waters granted in the late 1990s, to the $6 billion per year ethanol tax credit, there are dozens of reforms that can return hundreds of billions to taxpayers while helping to address our nation’s top environmental priorities.

The list of cuts is long, and tackling them will require taking on rich, powerful corporations and special interest groups. The president and Congress must get tough with the special interests that are raiding our treasury and jeopardizing our valuable natural resources. Reform will also require cutting through traditional dogmas and working with non-traditional partners. We know it is not going to be easy. America needs real leadership.

Green Scissors 2011 builds on our previous reports but also offers new and expanded cuts. As with past reports, unless otherwise noted, the data is compiled from government sources.

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