Groups Suggest Ways To Help Environment While Cutting Federal Deficit

September 14, 2011

Budget cuts don't always have to harm the environment; in fact, sometimes they can help. An unlikely coalition proposes taking a "Green Scissors" to spending that harms the environment.

During the heated debate over the federal budget deficit and debt, the costs of various environmentally-related programs seldom were highlighted. But a recent report suggests at least one-quarter of the current target for budget cutting could be achieved by slashing wasteful spending on selected programs that are not friendly to the environment.

The Green Scissors 2011 report was developed by four right- and left-leaning advocacy groups: Heartland Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, and Public Citizen. They suggest it's possible to save about $380 billion over 2012-2016 while helping the environment. That's at least 25% of the $1.5 trillion cut for fiscal years 2012-2021 that Congress is trying to achieve. It's also nearly double what was recommended in Green Scissors 2010, which didn't involve the Heartland Institute.

Many of the cuts advocated in Green Scissors 2011 likely will be very controversial among various interest groups. Some recommendations involve raising revenue by collecting full market rates for fees and royalties. In the energy sector, cuts are suggested for conventional fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and alternative energy. Insurance and subsidy programs are among the targets in the agriculture sector. Transportation projects and programs, flood insurance, Corps of Engineers projects, mining royalties, and timber, grazing, and livestock programs are other main targets.

The identified fiscal waste comes in many forms, such as subsidies, grants, tax breaks, mandatory payments, below-market prices, loan guarantees, royalty relief, taxpayer-funded insurance, liability caps, accounting methods, fraud, and incompetence.

Providing coverage of the targeted programs (or ones that others may suggest), and the magnitude of the suggested cuts, may be a useful educational effort for both leading decision-makers and your local audiences. Such journalistic efforts can help put the economic, societal, and environmental impacts of this federal spending into more accurate perspective, in contrast with the sound-bite treatment, or complete lack of coverage, it often receives.

The primary federal decision-makers at the moment are the 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (also known as the Supercommittee). This group was set up by the House and Senate when they failed to reach agreement on how to better balance the federal budget.

The formation of the Supercommittee was authorized in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which President Obama signed into law on Aug. 2, 2011.

  • Budget Control Act of 2011: Search for S. 365; see Title IV for Joint Select Committee information.

The Committee is scheduled to submit its final report to the president, vice president, and leaders of the House and Senate by Dec. 2, 2011.

As the committee pushes to complete its work, its members will be pressured by other members of the House and Senate. Among those who are on record as supporting the thrust of the Green Scissors 2011 report are Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), and former Rep. Robert Inglis (R-SC).

At the local scale all over the country, many of the Green Scissors 2011 targets have very tangible impacts. Examples include grazing subsidies, mining royalties, oil and gas tax breaks, alternative energy grants, flood insurance, and commodity crop payments. Each individual topic can merit extensive coverage, and focusing on the entire picture could warrant an extensive multi-part package. 

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