Watchdog Group Slams Anti-Environmental Pork

Environmentalists and fiscal watchdogs have teamed up again to release the Green Scissors (search) 2003 report, hoping to slice up to $58 billion of what they say is anti-environmental pork in the federal budget.

"[We] want to eliminate wasteful and harmful spending from the government," said Erich Pica, a spokesman for the Friends of the Earth (search), a primary Green Scissors partner.

The coalition enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., have all signed on to support the recommendations.

"I support the Green Scissors report because it accomplishes two things that I am very passionate about — saving money and preserving the environment," Holt told

The recommendations attack major agricultural subsidies, which critics say go mostly to corporate growers who endanger animals and the environment in a race to expand and receive more government money.

They also criticize a number of provisions currently being debated in both the House and Senate energy bills, the former of which passed in April. One of those provisions includes exempting oil companies from paying royalties on the oil and gas on public lands, which would drain the states containing those lands of more than $3.7 billion annually.

The House included the exemption, which Green Scissors calls "drilling a hole in the treasury," but the coalition is lobbying hard for the Senate not to include it.

"It seems paradoxical that these members of Congress would sacrifice the financial interests of their own states," said Pica.

Among key recommendations the coalition is pursuing are:

— Reauthorizing the Superfund (search) pollution clean-up program, which they say would save taxpayers $5.8 billion over the next five years by making polluters pay penalty fees.

— Shutting down the Department of Energy's Fossil Fuel Research and Development programs, which they say do nothing but duplicate studies and serve as corporate welfare for technology companies. They say trimming these programs would save $1.7 billion over the next five years.

— Terminating the FreedomCAR (search) research into environmentally friendly hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Green Scissors said FreedomCAR research has gone nowhere since its inception in January 2002, and taxpayers would save $634 million over the next five years if it is killed.

— Rejecting a proposal to give the Tennessee Valley Authority $2.1 billion to restart a nearly 40-year-old nuclear generator at Browns Ferry in Decatur, Ala., despite a poor business plan and health and safety hazards to the nearby community.

"All of the recommendations have both environmental and fiscal angles — we're always trying to marry the two together," Pica added.

But not everyone is willing to cut the funds. Some accuse the coalition of using the popular slogan of "trimming the fat" to push controversial environmental policies — like eliminating access roads for the timber industry and cutting research funding for fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

"They are environmentalists dressing up as fiscal conservatives to try and fool the public," said Myron Ebell, who has been tracking the activities of Green Scissors for the Competitive Enterprise Institute for 10 years.

"The fiscal groups and the tax groups basically figured out fairly early on, that this was really a front group, and they aren't really interested in identifying government waste and overspending, but rather they are interested in claiming that a lot of environmental programs they don't like are wasteful," he added.

Keith Ashdown, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense (search), admits that fiscal conservatives and environmentalists don't always agree ideologically. But he insists that each of the 68 recommendations has been included because they are unduly burdening taxpayers.

"Generally, we have had a massive onslaught of spending," he said. "We believe in the principle that if you can conserve and preserve natural resources while saving money, that is important.  The goal of this coalition is to cut spending — not to create new laws or regulations, but to cut spending," he said.

But the Green Scissors' cost-cutting frenzy isn't the only game on the Hill. According to Sean Spicer, spokesman for House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, the chairman has issued a mandate for all committee chairmen to identify wasteful spending programs in their budgets by Sept. 2.

"We will be asking chairmen to look at whether they are meaningful programs and worth the taxpayers' funding them," said Spicer. "If it's not serving the American people there is no reason we should be asking them to pay for it."

As for Green Scissors, Ebell said the group can be lauded for its efforts but must be honest about its agenda. For example, he said, the group does not identify obvious waste in wind-harnessing technology studies or land acquisition by the federal government, both of which are not on the environmentalists' list of pet issues.

"I would have less of a gripe against the group if they identified all of the waste subsidies," he said. "But they only want the ones that are fashionable with environmentalists."