Dear EarthTalk: What is the “Green Scissors” campaign, which I understand can help the environment and has support from both liberals and conservatives?
— Jeff Nickson, Butte, MT
The Green Scissors Campaign was launched in 1994 as a partnership between the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) ad budget watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) to call attention to subsidies and programs that both harm the environment and waste taxpayer dollars—and which should be cut accordingly. The campaign has been issuing reports since 1996 detailing how Congress can cut specific programs to save money and the environment.
For the most recent report, Green Scissors 2012, the two organizations were joined by free market think tank R Street, which was started by former staffers of the libertarian Heartland Institute (previously a Green Scissors partner). This unlikely trio that spans the political spectrum left to right identifies some $700 billion in wasteful and environmentally harmful programs that could be scrapped over the next decade. Such savings would amount to almost two-thirds of the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts Congress is required to make beginning in 2013 under the terms of last year’s Budget Control Act.
“It is perverse that we are staring down the barrel of budget cuts that will lead to dirtier drinking water as we reward corporations with tens of billions of dollars a year to poison the public,” said Benjamin Schreiber, tax analyst with FoE. “We need to take the common sense solution of saving money by ending environmentally harmful spending.”
The proposed cuts include $269.78 billion from energy programs, including $158.7 billion of fossil fuel subsidies; $167.09 billion of agricultural subsidies, including $89.82 billion of federal crop insurance disaster aid; $212.02 billion of transportation subsidies, including $125.80 billion of general revenue transfers to the Highway Trust Fund; $101.8 billion of federal flood, crop and nuclear insurance subsidies; and $24.99 billion from wasteful or environmental damaging public lands and water projects. Given the collaborative nature of the Green Scissors campaign, only those programs that FoE, TCS and R Street agreed were both wasteful and environmentally harmful were included on the list of recommended cuts.
“As lawmakers argue over what to do about the enormous deficit and looming automatic budget cuts, we have come together to present them with almost $700 billion in cuts,” said Ryan Alexander, president of TCS. “Whether it’s getting rid of high-risk energy loan guarantees, reining in wasteful crop insurance or ending lucrative oil and gas tax breaks, eliminating wasteful spending that harms the environment just makes sense.”
“Taxpayers want Congress to stop bickering and get cutting,” adds Alexander. “Green Scissors shows them where to start.” Those interested in finding out more specifics can download the entire Green Scissors 2012 report for free in PDF form from the campaign’s website.