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Green Scissors Report Targets Waste in US Budget - 2002-04-21

President George Bush's proposal last February of a $2.1 trillion federal budget for fiscal year 2003 was the first step in the annual legislative ritual that allocates funds for the U.S. government. The Bush Administration's plan for the next budget year which begins October 1 includes a boost in spending on the military, homeland security and education. Some critics fear that increases related to the war on terrorism will limit spending in other important areas, and they decry the federal government's return to deficit spending. Congress must approve the budget and, over the next several months, lawmakers will be deciding, dollar by dollar, how to appropriate the funds.

(So) this is the time of year when lobbyists, professional activists, descend on Capitol Hill to garner Congressional support for their favorite programs. Recently a coalition of environmental and consumer group held a news conference in a grassy area near the U.S. Capitol building, to call for cuts in wasteful federal spending which they believe harms the environment.

The "Green Scissors Report" proposes $54 billion worth of federal budget cuts over the next five years and targets 78 programs in agriculture, energy, public lands, transportation and water programs for cutting. "We are recklessly borrowing from our future environmentally and fiscally. Enough is enough," says Mr. Pica.

Among numerous proposals, The "Green Scissors Report" calls for changes to an old mining law that would require companies that extract minerals from public lands to pay a royalty to the government. It also recommends a quick phase-out of various petroleum and clean coal research programs.

Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon endorses one "Green Scissors" proposal to cut federal spending for artificial beach construction. "These projects, which in some cases are slipped into federal law with never a public hearing, are long-term commitments of the tax payers," he says. "In some cases hundreds and millions of dollars are spent. We are in a situation that they are actually destructive to the marine aquatic environment and it pushes problems up and down the seacoast."

The annual "Green Scissors Report" has gained bipartisan support in Congress. Advocates on Capitol Hill say that over the last eight years its recommendations have led to $26 billion in budget cuts that have benefited the environment.

But Jonathan Adler, professor of environmental law at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, cautions against reading too much into the report. "My concerns about the report is that it isn't particularly loyal to the principles it sets forward," he says. "There are proposals that don't do much to save tax payer dollars and there are even some proposals that would do more environmental harm than good."

The report recommends, for example, shelving federal plans for a $56 billion nuclear waste dump in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, a project the report considers harmful to the environment and public health. Jonathan Adler is not convinced. "The question I would have with listing Yucca Mountain is that we have this waste," he says. "Given the number of states in which this waste would be coming from, one has to ask - from an environmental standpoint - whether or not it is better to have the waste spread across 40 different states or to have all nuclear waste contained very far underground in a single space."

While Mr. Adler says he agrees with the idea of cutting wasteful spending from the federal budget, including some of the programs listed in the report, he believes the Green Scissors campaigners have lost support because their message is so political. "To attract a wider audience they would need to be willing to reduce the ideological content of the report and apply the principles of targeting wasteful and environmentally destructive spending in a more consistent fashion," he says. "There are many things in the report that don't particularly cost tax payers money and are particularly controversial not because of their economic interests that benefit from them, but because a lot more is involved than eliminating a line item [from the budget]."

Critics like Jonathan Adler say that while the "Green Scissors Report" can be a useful resource, it would be a mistake to rely on it as a comprehensive guide to environmentally destructive programs. Pierre Sadik with U.S. Public Interest Group disagrees. He says the report offers realistic solutions to the problems of pollution and wasteful government spending. "Pollution knows no [geographic] boundaries and a well-known example of that is that while the U.S. has 3 or 4 percent of the world's population, we emit 25 percent of the world's global-warming pollution, carbon dioxide," he says. "A lot of this carbon dioxide that is hurting Americans and people around the planet is subsidized believe it or not by government programs. The message that we send to people everywhere is that it doesn't make sense for the government to be paying for polluting programs."

Pierre Sadik adds that advocates for the "Green Scissors" campaign hope to put copies of their report on the desks of every member of the U.S. Congress.