If the supercommittee tasked with finding more than a trillion dollars to cut from the federal budget needs some advice, we have it for them.
Public Citizen and three other organizations today issued a new report, “Green Scissors 2011,” outlining $380 billion in environmentally harmful subsidies that should be trimmed. That would go a long way toward solving our nation’s budget challenges. The other groups are Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and The Heartland Institute. Yes, we know, The Heartland Institute is a really conservative, free-market think tank. As Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said during a press conference call today, the fact that people from such varying perspectives can come together and agree on something means that it’s doable, and the supercommittee ought to do it too.
The groups propose cutting many fossil fuel, nuclear and alternative energy subsidies (like ethanol). Other targets include massive giveaways of publicly owned timber, poorly conceived road projects and a bevy of questionable Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
Time magazine has a good take on the report. Wrote Michael Grunwald:
Hopefully, the congressional Super-Duper Cuts Committee will take a look at this report before it starts slashing Social Security or food stamps or public transit or vaccinations or other government programs with legitimate public purposes.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and former U.S. Rep. Robert Inglis of South Carolina joined the press conference call. Inglis wisely noted that if conservatives get locked into the Grover Norquist school of thought, in which every time a subsidy is rescinded it’s called a tax increase, “we will never move forward.”
Ultimately, what the supercommittee does comes down to political clout. The most powerful corporate interests get the handouts. Everyone else gets left out. Noted Eli Lehrer, vice president of The Heartland Institute, “You don’t get Congress to give you subsidies if you are a weak group.”
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, noted that everything listed in the report would be good not only for the economy but also for the environment. “These are subsidies that cannot be justified on policy ground and are only a reflection of the political power of the energy companies.”
Said Ben Schreiber, climate and energy tax analyst at Friends of the Earth, the subsidies “are bad for the environment and bad for the economy. And they just don’t make sense.”