Wasteful, Environmentally Destructive Spending Costs Taxpayers Billions

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Congress had seven opportunities last year to cut wasteful and environmentally harmful subsidies costing taxpayers $852 million - and squandered them all. This year, Congress has a chance to save taxpayers nearly $50 billion by voting against 77 programs representing the worst form of special interest subsidies, a coalition of environmental groups said today.

fox trap

The Green Scissors Campaign lists federal predator control subsidies as among the wasteful, environmentally harmful programs that should be cut (Photo courtesy People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
The Green Scissors Campaign, a coalition of 27 national organizations led by Friends of the Earth (FOE), Taxpayers for Common Sense and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) Education Fund, released reports today documenting last year’s Congressional failures to eliminate wasteful spending, and the opportunities available this year to trim spending fat.

"In 1999, Congress could easily have cut a total of $852 million from the overall federal budget, had policymakers followed recommendations outlined by the Green Scissors Campaign in early 1999," said Cena Swisher, director of the Green Scissors Program for Taxpayers for Common Sense Action. "Instead, politicians committed to pork barrel projects, and special interests held taxpayers hostage."

Since 1993, the Green Scissors Campaign has issued annual reports on the money the government is spending on programs and subsidies that spend taxpayer money to cause environmental harm. The reports bring these subsidies to the attention of environmental groups and lobbyists, who can wield their influence to persuade members of Congress to vote against this special interest funding.

The Green Scissors Campaign targets the millions of dollars spent on projects that "pollute our nation’s rivers, destroy habitats, create radioactive wastes, and squander our natural resources," according to Campaign reports. Targeted areas subsidize a wide range of projects, from research on cleaner diesel engines, to wildlife control programs, to mohair ranchers.

In general, the Campaign concentrates on areas where money is being spent on pollution producing technologies, like diesel fuels, or unnecessary products, like mohair for woolen military uniforms. If a polluting technology could be replaced by a cleaner technology - swapping fuel cells for diesel, for example - the program is likely to end up on the Campaign’s chopping block.


A $1 billion incinerator is burning chemical arms at the Deseret Chemical Depot near Tooele, Utah; the entire U.S. chemical weapons incineration program is on Green Scissors 1999 and 2000 lists (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization)
The Campaign shows particular animosity for technologies like nuclear energy and nuclear weapons manufacture. Because these programs produce extremely hazardous wastes for which no completely safe disposal methods have been found, Green Scissors opposes most new uses of nuclear materials. A number of proposed new reactors and other nuclear projects have already fallen to Green Scissors pressure, and nearly every major nuclear waste disposal facility is on the "Green Scissors 2000" list.

"Already, DOE [the Department of Energy] has demonstrated that it cannot be a responsible steward when it comes to nuclear wastes," said Anna Aurilio, a staff scientist for US PIRG. "We should not repeat those mistakes of the past." The Green Scissors Campaign views waste disposal sites like the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico and the Yucca Mountain High Level Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada as repeating those mistakes, she said.

"If they recommended a site that they could ensure would never leak, that would be completely environmentally safe, that site would not end up on our list," Aurilio said.

The group compiles proposals submitted by experts and organizations concerned with cutting the budget and saving the environment, including the 27 groups involved in the coalition.

The final list is the result of some hard fought negotiations between very diverse participants, ranging from the Mineral Policy Center, to Physicians for Social Responsibility, to Republicans for Environmental Protection.


The cavernous disposal tunnels at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project made the Green Scissors list of wasteful and damaging projects (Photo courtesy WIPP)
However, "Green Scissors supporters are united in our belief that the stakes are too high to let ideology or petty politics keep us from finding areas of agreement," the coalition states in its reports.

The "Green Scissors Tally for 1999" is a new report from the Campaign which documents congressional actions on issues related to the Green Scissors Campaign in 1999. The report provides information on how individual Congress members voted on legislation to cut - or to maintain - wasteful programs.

"Americans should be outraged," said Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth at a press conference today in Washington, DC. "Members of Congress squandered seven opportunities to slash programs that threaten our environment. The ‘Green Scissors Tally’ holds Congress accountable for their votes against environmental protection."

The Tally represents the first time that the Campaign has provided a report card on voting records, showing which Congress members took Green Scissors’ advice and which continued to support wasteful spending.


The federal government provides interest free loans to mohair goat growers to provide wool for military uniforms (Photo courtesy Happy J Farms)
"We are very grateful to our friends in Congress, particularly Senator John Kerry, and Representatives Tom Campbell and Christopher Shays, who have led on Green Scissors issues and consistently voted to cut wasteful and environmentally harmful spending," said Pica.

But the Campaign had harsh words for other Congress members who have shown consistent opposition to reducing subsidies, including Representative Ralph Regula, an Ohio Republican, Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican.

Along with many others, these Congress members voted to continue wasteful funding for fossil fuel research, hardrock mining subsidies, and public lands timber sales that cost more money than they bring in, the Campaign reports.

"For example, while smog standards were violated on more than 7,000 occasions around the country last summer, putting our children and elderly at risk for asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and global warming is threatening our way of life, yet the fossil fuel research and development program uses our hard earned tax dollars to subsidize the coal and oil companies responsible for most of our air and global warming pollution," said Lexi Shultz of US PIRG.

"These handouts are polluter pork - special favors for special interest that destroy our environment," said Shultz. "Clearly, polluter pork is thriving in Washington."

Today, the Campaign also released "Green Scissors 2000" recommendations for the upcoming Congress, listing 77 environmentally wasteful programs that, if cut, could save taxpayers nearly $50 billion.

In early 1999, the Campaign reported on 72 projects that the coalition agreed should be cut. "Green Scissors 2000" updates progress on those projects and adds five new pork barrel programs:

"With the cuts proposed today, we have an opportunity to pay back more of America’s credit card - the national debt," said Swisher. "In the new millennium, we call on policymakers to use these recommendations and exercise fiscal discipline."

Over the past six years, the coalition says it has helped to eliminate $24 billion in environmentally harmful subsidies. Green Scissors claims victory over more than 20 such programs, including plans to spend:

"Policymakers have both the chance as well as the responsibility to help save future generations from enormous fiscal burdens by using the cuts we recommend," said Swisher.