Last updated 9:36AM ET
August 27, 2014
Local Commentaries
Local Commentaries
Bill Knight - October 6
(2011-10-05)
Bill Knight
(wium) - A rare coalition of progressive and conservative advocacy groups have joined together to propose more than a third of a trillion dollars in spending cuts - a quarter of the savings the new congressional Super Committee has been assigned to find - and Illinois would be affected by ending subsidies for ethanol, coal and projects including FutureGen and the Upper Mississippi River Navigation Locks Project.

The group's report - Green Scissors 2011 - is a plan to save about $380 billion over five years by curbing what it calls wasteful spending that also harms the environment.

The four organizations are the progressive environmental group Friends of the Earth, deficit-hawk Taxpayers for Common Sense, consumer-watchdog Public Citizen, and conservative think tank the Heartland Institute.

Friends of the Earth's Ben Schreiber said, "At a time of great polarization, Super Committee members can and should find common ground by ending wasteful polluter giveaways. We can go a long way toward solving our nation's budget problems by cutting spending that harms the environment, and this report provides the Super Committee with a road map."

The groups propose cutting many fossil fuel, nuclear and alternative-energy subsidies. Other targets include massive giveaways of publicly owned timber, "poorly conceived" road projects, and several Army Corps of Engineers water projects it calls "questionable."

The report says, "While all four groups have different missions, histories, goals and ideas about the role of government, we all agree that we can begin to overcome our nation's budgetary and environmental woes by tackling spending that is not only wasteful but environmentally harmful.

"To get our nation's spending in check we will need to end wasteful programs and policies," the report continues.

"They not only cost us up front, but also create additional financial liabilities down the road and threaten our nation's fragile land, air and water. In addition, we need to ensure that we receive a fair return on government assets. From the ... 1872 Mining Law that gives away precious metals on federal lands, to ... royalty-free leases in federal waters granted in the late 1990s, to the $6 billion per year ethanol tax credit, there are dozens of reforms that can return hundreds of billions to taxpayers while helping environmental priorities."

The report recommends spending cuts in agriculture, energy, transportation, and land & water.

For example, federal subsidies to coal companies alone now top $500 million despite the industry doing well. (The largest private-sector coal company, Peabody Energy, posted $460 million in profits already this year).

Green Scissors urges total cuts in conventional fossil fuel subsidies, in nuclear subsidies cuts, and alternative-energy subsidies (including the $2.4 billion cost of what it calls the "boondoggle" of FutureGen, the "clean coal" system proposed for several counties in south-central Illinois).

The coalition also proposes cutting $56 billion from agricultural subsidies, including $7 billion underwriting Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (those huge and controversial "factory farms").

In transportation, the group suggests cuts of $106 billion, including $815 million for small "non-hub" airports.

And in land & water, the group urges cuts of $15 billion, including the $2 billion Upper Mississippi River Navigation Locks Project enlarging locks in the Mississippi-Illinois Waterway.

Former Republican Congressman Robert Inglis of South Carolina said, "Conservatives believe in the accountability of the marketplace. Subsidies cost us money, and they shield some participants from innovation. It's that innovation that can grow our economy and clean up the air, water and land."

Conservative Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander agrees, saying, "These common-sense cuts represent the lowest of the low hanging budgetary fruit. Lawmakers across the political spectrum should be scrambling to eliminate these examples of wasteful spending and unnecessary tax breaks that are squandering our precious tax dollars while the nation is staring into a chasm of debt."

Their plan is common sense from a progressive's perspective, too, liberals said.

Tyson Slocum from Public Citizen said, "At a time when working families are expected to belt-tighten, so too must wasteful public investments in mature, polluting technologies. For too long, lobbyists kept these undeserving programs and tax preferences for the fossil fuel and nuclear industry funded."

Bill Knight is a freelance writer who teaches at Western Illinois University. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio

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