“Green Scissors,” Dull Shears

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The Green Scissors campaign--a coalition composed of Ralph Nader’s PublicInterest Research Group, Friends of the Earth, the National Audubon Societyand the National Wildlife Federation, to name a few--is spending lots ofmoney to convince people that they--the institutionalized Left--are the trueproponents of free markets because they’re the only principled opponents of“corporate welfare.” Excuse us if we gag.

In paid advertisements that blanketed the nation last month, the Web siteTomPaine.com trumpeted the release of the coalition's latest report, “GreenScissors 2001,” and challenged the “‘limited-government, free-market’ crowd”by asking: “Will they endorse [the report’s] findings even when theirfriends and supportersin corporate America benefit from the boondoggles profiled?” Their answer:“We don’t expect to hear a peep.” Perhaps they’ll settle for a roar oftruth.

First, the $55 billion of environmentally harmful corporate welfare cutsthey propose is little but false advertising. The sum is inflated, not an“exact” figure, according to the authors, but “illustrative” and,disingenuously, the result of lumping together multi-year and single-yearestimates. Clearly, something funny is going on.

The mathematical puffery is necessary because the cuts are a drop in thebucket given the panoply of corporate welfare programs that aren’t targetedby these newly baptized disciples of Adam Smith. We at Cato, for instance,have long called for almost all the same cuts, plus another $23 billionworth of annualized savings from programs that could be described as“corporate welfare” with negative environmental implications. We don’t needlectures about limited government from the likes of Friends of the Earth.

Why is Green Scissors so reluctant to wield the budgetary axe? Perhaps it'sbecause almost all the corporate welfare ignored by our Green friendsrepresents subsidies for voting groups that the Left is fond of courting.

Consider the agricultural programs. Green Scissors denounces the sugar,tobacco, mohair, and cotton programs—all subsidies for farmers in primarilyRepublican districts. Fine, we agree. But where’s the milk program? Aremilk subsidies somehow less obnoxious than the rest?Green Scissors is likewise silent about the massive annual handouts to grainfarmers. Those programs meet anyone’s definition of corporate welfare andclearly have negative environmental consequences; they keep more farmlandunder plow than necessary and promote the excessive consumption ofagrochemical products. Moreover, the cost of those handouts dwarfs thecost of the ag programs targeted by the report.

The report likewise failed to find any complaint with the ethanol program: acorn subsidy operation decried by nearly every environmental organization asa major contributor to summer-time urban smog and a notorious pork barrelfor such agri-giants as Archer Daniels Midland.

And despite the environmental hand-wringing over declining fisheries in theNorth Atlantic, the report refused to address $160 million of subsidies tothe domestic fishing industry, subsidies responsible for much of the over-harvesting of dwindling commercial fish species.What are the common denominators of these overlooked programs? They allbenefit agricultural interests represented by the likes of Tom Daschle, TomHarkin and Ted Kennedy. Apparently, Green Scissors’ commitment to the freemarket stops at politics’ door.

Similar complaints can be lodged against the report’s proposed energy cuts,which only target fossil fuel industries. Why not wind power subsidies?Windmill turbines are called the “cuisinarts of the air” by the NationalAudubon Society (ironically, a member of the Green Scissors coalition) andAudubon has long campaigned for a construction moratorium given the massivedestruction of bird populations documented at those facilities. And whyignore solar and geothermal energy subsidies? Are desert and wildernessareas of the lower 48 states (the only profitable sites for those plants)somehow less worthy of protection than the icy tundra of the Arctic NationalWildlife Refuge?

Green Scissors’ proposed international and military program cuts arelikewise timid. Why not go after payments to the World Bank, which onlyserve to subsidize infrastructure projects that can’t stand on their own inthe marketplace? The same thing goes for the U.S. Agency for InternationalDevelopment, the Inter-American Development Bank, the African DevelopmentFund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Most of theprojects they fund affect the environment (usually detrimentally), and allhave failed to promote economic growth.

It was only a few years ago that the bulk of the environmental communitysupported the elimination of the World Bank and related organizations. Whathappened? Those institutions promised to hand out some of their largess toGreen causes, that’s what happened.

While we applaud the effort to find wasteful government spending, GreenScissors 2001 is less a principled guide to reform than a cynical attempt tostick it to Republicans. Fine, Republicans should be reminded that freemarkets aren’t just for the other guy. It’s too bad, however, that thecontributors to Green Scissors 2001 lack the courage of their newly mintedlimited-government convictions and refuse to apply the same steely budgetaryeye to their friends on the Left. But what else is new?