An unlikely alliance once again takes out its ‘Green Scissors’

Groups spotlight nearly $300 billion of wasteful and environmentally harmful government spending

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Sometimes we all let our gardens get a little out of control, but summer is a great time for some pruning. That’s especially true when the garden is the federal budget and the weeds you’re pulling are billions of dollars of environmentally harmful and wasteful spending. 

While the federal deficit has exploded to a record high, increasingly extreme weather — connected to climate change — is already causing billions of dollars in annual damages and overturning lives and communities across the U.S.  The urgent need for political consensus to address climate change has never been more clear: That’s why an unlikely alliance of environmental, consumer, taxpayer and free market advocates have taken their “Green Scissors” back out. 

U.S. PIRG, Environment America, R Street Institute, Friends of the Earth and Taxpayers for Common Sense have once again come together to develop the definitive guide for cutting out polluter welfare from the federal government. After being dormant for several years, we have chosen 2021 to revive Green Scissors, a project that began in the 1990s, because of the urgent problems we’re now facing. 

The idea behind Green Scissors is simple, yet powerful. It’s centered around a principle that all of these groups, despite our varying perspectives, can agree on: The federal government should stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on fiscally wasteful and environmentally harmful programs. This spending adds to the deficit and threatens the environment and the public interest. The majority of the Green Scissor list represents handouts to special interests that prop up polluting industries. Cutting this spending will reduce pollution and free up money that can be spent on modern infrastructure investments, like clean energy and transportation. 

Green Scissors proposes more than 50 cuts, adding up to nearly $300 billion in savings over 10 years and covering harmful programs for energy, water, agriculture, transportation and public lands. For example, fossil fuel companies that drill on public lands or in public waters normally pay royalties for oil and gas extraction. The Department of the Interior, however, often provides what is known as “royalty relief,” granting exemptions from payments. This has cost the federal government billions of dollars in royalty payments over the past three decades, while allowing companies to drill on public lands scot free. If this practice continues, it’s projected to cost taxpayers more than $2 billion over the next 10 years. 

That’s bad for the environment, bad for the budget and bad for the taxpayer. It also gives the oil industry and unfair competitive advantage, subsidizing the industry when otherwise offshore wind may have been cheaper. Coming from a wide range of viewpoints, our organizations all agree, for various reasons, that this is nonsense and we should band together to stop it.  

This was no small feat. Our organizations don’t agree on many things. In fact, at times, we might find more areas of disagreement than agreement. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together when we do agree. 

That’s the real power of Green Scissors. In an era of heightened political polarization, when the divide among Americans appears to be greater than any time in recent memory, we can still find common ground around common sense ideas, even with people we don’t always agree with. And those common sense ideas can, and should, become the basis for sound policymaking that moves America forward in a productive and impactful way. 

That’s why we’ve taken our Green Scissors back out. Congress should do the same. 


Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

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