Congress wasted millions on environmentally harmful subsidies in 1999

The US Congress' failure to cut environmentally harmful subsidies last year cost the American taxpayer an estimated $852 million , according to a coalition of environmental and social groups. The coalition also claims that savings of nearly $50 billion could be made if the US Government abandoned a further 77 environmentally damaging programmes.

The claims were made in two reports, The Green Scissors Tally for 1999 and Green Scissors 2000 respectively. Both were released by the Green Scissors Campaign which is headed by Friends of the Earth Action, Taxpayers for Common Sense Action and US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).

The Green Scissors Campaign, which includes a further 27 national US organisations, was set up to hold Congress accountable for votes against environmental protection. “We get calls all the time from politicians asking how they can become leaders on the issue of subsidy cuts,” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense Action told edie. The issue of wasteful government subsidies has become particularly important in the run up to the US Presidential election, with “at least 99% of voters believing in the concept of cutting government waste,” according to Ashdown. Ashdown points out, however, that one person’s unfair subsidy is another person’s necessity: Republican candidate John McCain, for instance, did not run in the Iowa caucuses largely because of the unpopularity of his opposition to subsidies for ethanol.

The Green Scissors Tally for 1999 looks at congressional votes on US Government subsidies to the mining, oil, timber and agriculture industries. Last year, the Senate voted on four subsidies that, if cut, could have saved taxpayers a total of $733 million. The House of Representatives voted on seven subsidies that cost the US taxpayer a total of $832 million. Taking into account the doubling up of some of these votes, Congressmen missed the opportunity to save US taxpayers a total of $852 million, the coalition says.

Votes tallied in The Green Scissors Tally for 1999 included:

House of Representatives

  • Timber Sales: Representatives failed to cut $23 million from the commodity timber sales budget of the Forest Service. This programme promotes timber industry clearcuts on National Forests
  • Fossil Fuel Research and Development: Representatives successfully voted twice to cut a total of $79 million from the coal, petroleum, and diesel research programmes which benefit fossil fuel and auto companies
  • Wildlife Services Livestock Protection Programme: Representatives failed to cut $7 million in funding for attempts to control wolves, coyotes and other predators for western ranchers


  • Hardrock Mining Subsidy: Senators voted to weaken the 1872 Mining law, allowing mining companies to dump mining waste on public lands at low prices
  • Oil Royalties Payment: Senators voted to delay the implementation of a rule that would force oil companies drilling on public lands to pay market-based royalty rates

Meanwhile, Green Scissors 2000-Cutting Wasteful and Environmentally Harmful Spending shows how US taxpayer money could be saved by cutting 77 federal programmes that range from coal industry subsidies to timber sales.

Green Scissors 2000 targets five new programmes:

  • Deep-Draft Dredging: there are efforts to increase the federal share of costs for harbours attempting to dig deeper navigation channels. The environmental coalition claim an increase in the federal cost share would be extremely expensive to taxpayers, and could dig up contaminated dredge waste
  • Columbia River Deepening : the US Army Corps of Engineers wants to dredge the Port of Portland to a deeper depth. This will cost taxpayers $200 million, the environmentalists claim
  • Federal Crop Insurance: the programme costs taxpayers $2 billion a year and environmentalists claim this encourages farming on marginal lands prone to frequent losses due to weather
  • Low Frequency Active Sonar: The US Navy is developing a sonar system that, environmentalists claim, could harm aquatic mammals
  • Forest Highways Programme: the Federal Highway Administration manages a programme that provides money to the Forest Service to pave over forest roads. Cutting this programme would save taxpayers $410 million, according to environmentalists

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