Snip, Snip

Cutting Planet-Plundering Government Programs

When environmentalists talk about forming coalitions, they’re usually thinking about working with other greens, not budget-cutting conservatives. But, as the highly effective Green Scissors Campaign demonstrates, when big-ticket government projects and subsidies are also environmentally destructive, there’s considerable common ground between the two camps. The programs Green Scissors has recently targeted include everything from U.S. Forest Service roadbuilding programs to tobacco price supports.

Working together to wield Green Scissors are the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). All three operate Washington-based lobbying efforts, but the comparison ends there. FOE is a mainstream environmental group, and USPIRG a citizens’ lobby, while TCS works for a balanced budget and tax cuts. They’ve been able to form an effective coalition because they agree on hating corporate subsidies and wasteful pork barrel spending, particularly when it impacts the Earth. Founded in 1993, Green Scissors has helped terminate 11 wasteful programs (including a boondoggle known as the Gas-Cooled Modular Helium Reactor), saving taxpayers $20 billion.

In 1997, Green Scissors targeted 57 programs whose elimination would save the taxpayer $36 billion. The group succeeded in building congressional coalitions which scheduled 20 House and Senate votes on its key issues. While it won no outright victories, it raised the profile on protected programs usually hidden deep within appropriation bills. How many taxpayers would cheerfully support below-cost timber sales, the corporate welfare-dispensing Overseas Private Investment Corporation or Army chemical weapons incinerators?

“It is truly a win-win situation,” says U.S. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY). “Green Scissors is founded on the belief that we must pass on to our children a sound environment and a sound economy. Who can disagree with that?”

Courtney Cuff, the FOE Green Scissors campaign coordinator, says that “working with the enemy” is definitely paying off. “The better we get to know each other, the stronger the alliance becomes, because we learn how each other thinks,” she says. Jill Lancelot, Green Scissors co-founder and TCS’ legislative director, agrees that the joint campaign has been successful. “You get two very different and very separate constituencies coming together on an issue and finding the common ground,” Lancelot says. “It’s basically very positive, and that’s what Green Scissors is all about.”

Roads to Nowhere

One issue that FOE, USPIRG and the deficit hawks at TCS emphatically agree on is national forest road construction. The roads are built by logging companies, which are then reimbursed-in loggable trees-by the U.S. Forest Service. Cutting this funding would result in a saving of $250 million over the next five years and would protect thousands of acres of old-growth trees. The defunding proposal was recently defeated in a 50-50 Senate vote, and is still a top Green Scissors priority. Also in the Green Scissors’ sights is the National Ignition Facility, whose function is to test nuclear triggers in virtual defiance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Cutting it would save over $4.7 billion. The proposed Corridor H Highway in West Virginia is, according to Green Scissors, unnecessary and environmentally damaging. Not building the road, one of 22 such plans identified by Green Scissors, would save the government $880 million.

Green Scissors gives the Clinton Administration a dismal “D-not working to potential,” for its recent performance. Clinton wins plaudits for relatively minor efforts: his veto threat against “reforms” to the 1872 Mining Law that would have made bad legislation worse; his opposition to the below-market-value privatization of a California park; and his halting construction of a Minnesota bridge that would have harmed a wild and scenic river. He gets “detention hall” for not stopping such big-ticket items as Coal Research and Development ($500 million); the Tokamak Fusion Reactor program ($3 billion); the Yucca Mountain High-Level Repository ($325 million), and many more.

A cost-cutting panel put together by House Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH) recently chose 10 of its 12 “Dirty Dozen” targets from the Green Scissors list. Lancelot predicts that some of these programs will indeed be defunded, if not this year then maybe next. She says that most people wouldn’t resent paying taxes as much as they do if they knew their money wasn’t being wasted. And not wasting money is a conservative idea that environmentalists can rally around.

JIM MOTAVALLI is editor of E; CHRISTINE THOMAS is an editorial intern at the magazine.