Green Scissors

Green Scissors 2012: Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending

This report is the latest of a string of assessments produced over the past 18 years to identify and quantify federal subsidies that harm the environment as well as waste prodigious amounts of money.  The exact coalition producing the reports varies a bit year-to-year, but the Green Scissors Campaign has always been a collaboration between budget and environmental groups aimed at eliminating wasteful spending that is harmful to the environment.

Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana

Like so many attempts to strip away senseless subsidies before it, the most recent Congressional push to eliminate at least a handful of expensive subsidies to the oil and gas industry was blocked in May.  But the growing deficits remain, and with them the pressure for fiscal austerity and the need to demonstrate a competant bi-partisan ability to govern.  The push to kill these subsidies may well rise again.

Here's a rundown of some of the coverage of the oil subsidy issue I found notable.

1)  Why end oil and gas subsidies.  Dan Primack's (Fortune Magazine) synthesis of the reasons to end oil and gas tax breaks is concise and articulate.  Well worth a read.  Great suggestions as well in the 2011 Green Scissors Report, produced through a joint effort of Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, and the Heartland Institute. 

2)  Save our subsidies:  the role of lobbying.  Steve Kretzmann over at Oil Change ran the numbers on political contributions and saving the subsidies to oil and gas.  Their finding?  Those protecting the subsidies got average donations five times the level of those voting for reform.  I know you are all shocked...  An interesting update on this work looked at links between oil and gas industry contributions and the core "Super Congress" chosen to serve on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, slated with identifying deficit-cutting options for the country.  The hope, of course, is that regardless of past affiliations these individuals can rise above parochial interests to do what is right for the country as a whole.  Time will tell.

3)  What's good for big oil is good for the USA.  Industry profits continue to surge, but this has no bearing on whether or not to get rid of subsidies according to industry boosters.  They are good for all of us, industry officials say.  Here's a quote from the American Petroleum Institute's Kyle Isakower that I think is destined to become an industry classic:

"When our industry does well, much of America does well also," Kyle Isakower, API's vice president of regulatory and economic policy, said in a briefing with reporters Monday, adding that the industry's reinvestment drives "economic progress and translates to billions of jobs supported, vast amounts of retirement income protected and billions in government revenue generated."

So I guess we should give them more money?  Isakower's linkage of oil subsidies to "retirement income protected" is a new one to me, and among the most absurd of the claims I've seen put forth by industries trying to defend their continued access to the federal trough.  Subsidy elimination would have very little impact on oil company share prices, which aggregate production from multiple business lines in many countries of the world.  Further, it is quite clear that fiscal default and ballooning deficits even without short-term default will have a far more detrimental impact on retirement funds and funding than stripping the favorable tax rules that have fed the fossil fuels industry for more than eight decades.


Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana

After a many-year hiatus, I'm happy to welcome back the Green Scissors report.  Green Scissors 2010 documents environmentally harmful subsidies to a variety of key sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and public lands.  The initiative is important in a number of respects. 

First, it combines the efforts of multiple NGOs (Friends the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Environment America, and Public Citizen) in a concentrated and effective way.  It is clear that subsidy reform is difficult even with this type of collaboration; without it, reform efforts don't stand a chance.  Second, the groups are all heavily focused on the legislative world.  Their approach emphasizes a format that legislative staff can clearly understand and act upon.  In the immensely complicated policy arena of government subsidies, this is no easy task.  Third, there is great power in making lists of subsidies to frame conversations on reform in an effective manner and push people to think about favored programs in new ways.

I'm hoping the 2010 report is the first of what will again become an annual assessment, and look forward to seeing the both the list and the policy details on the subsidies growing in future years. 


Green Scissors 2010

Since its inception fifteen years ago, the Green Scissors Campaign has fought to make environmental and fiscal responsibility a priority in Washington. By eliminating subsidies and programs that both harm the environment and waste taxpayer dollars, the federal government can protect our natural resources while reducing the growth of government spending and making a significant dent in the national debt. Green Scissors 2010 identifies more than $200 billion in wasteful government subsidies that are damaging to the environment and harmful to consumers.