March 1, 1996
Sometimes it's better to do nothing, particularly when it comes to expensive federal programs which pollute the environment.
Washington spends billions each year on subsidies, guarantees and wasteful programs which cause pollution -- and then require more expensive programs to rectify the damage done by the original programs. For example:
- Farm programs such as price supports and acreage set-asides encourage greater per-acre use of chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, which run off into the nation's rivers and streams.
- Ending federal commodity programs would save taxpayers about $10 billion a year, while cutting per-acre pesticide use by 30 percent.
- But by refusing to cut peanut and sugar subsidies this week, the House of Representatives missed a great opportunity for economic and environmental gains.
Subsidizing recreation on government lands leads to wear and tear on trails and parks, and -- without adequate user fees -- passes the costs back to taxpayers.
- The National Park Service spends over $1 billion a year on recreational lands.
- While the Forest Service claims to spend $7 billion annually for recreation, it collects only $50 million in user fees.
- Among other federal agencies in the recreation business are the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Yet another example is the Animal Damage Control Program:
- This outfit spends over $20 million a year to kill birds, coyotes and other threats to livestock, crops and other private investments -- thereby encouraging ranchers and farmers to use marginal lands.
- Environmentalists claim it also harms other animal species not officially targeted.
- Then there is the National Flood Insurance Program:
- By selling insurance to homeowners at below-market rates, this program encourages development in hazardous and environmentally fragile areas.
- Any year of particularly severe weather disasters could bankrupt the fund and leave taxpayers with the bills.
There is also the federal "Clean Coal" program, which has spent over $1.1 billion since 1986 -- without yielding any significant environmental gains.
Environmental groups estimate that just by eliminating these and other such programs, the federal government could save $40 billion a year.
Source: Jonathan H. Adler (Competitive Enterprise Institute), "Green Budget-Cutting," Investor's Business Daily, March 1, 1996.
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