Slash and burn


Many good, green guys and gals were blown away Nov. 8, and bills now in Congress would block environmental regulation through "takings" analyses that elevate property rights above the public good.

But legitimate fears should not blind the environmental community to new opportunities for positive change. Voters also blew out deadwood and shook the foundations of a host of bad projects, programs, agencies and even cabinet departments. This is the time to join in the call for removing golden calves, and even some of their manmade temples.

These deserve to go:

Energy Department: The 1995 Energy budget was $17.7 billion, of which $1.2 billion was to promote energy efficiency and renewable development. Some of the rest went to defense cleanup, but most was for defense-oriented research and development and promotion of nuclear power and fossil fuel. The total wipe-out of the department would be a net, green gain.

Tennessee Valley Authority: TVA is a moldy relic of the New Deal. Within the last year, TVA finally decided to give up on three partially built nuclear reactors in which it had invested $6.3 billion. Private power companies had either given up or been forced out of the nuclear construction business 10 years ago by the state utilities commissions. Easy federal money kept TVA in the business.

Bonneville Power Administration: With federal subsidies, BPA provides the lowest power rates in the nation. The biggest beneficiaries are Northwest aluminum companies.

Using BPA's own phony financials, long-time salmon restoration advocate Ed Cheney has calculated that BPA spends $68 million a year more to destroy the salmon than it would cost to alter the dams restoring the flows to allow natural migration. The major federal expenditure is in barging wild and hatchery salmon and steelhead downstream never to return again.

Rural Electrification Administration: Today's REAs serve no public purpose. For decades electricity has been available in 99 percent of America. REAs are primarily competing with private utilities to serve suburbia. With 2 percent federal loans, REAs are the major hydro developers pushing to dam the few remaining free-flowing streams and rivers.

Agriculture Department: The greatest unmandated funding is to farms. Federal aid to farmers from 1980 to 1992 cost the taxpayer $190 billion. The biggest beneficiaries are the biggest farms. Cutting out the subsidies would tend to eliminate inefficient farming.

Animal Damage Control: The government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars paying trappers to kill coyotes and a host of other wild things to protect cows and sheep already grazing below cost on federal ranges.

Inland Waterways: Canal construction is a 200-year-old idea that is certainly mature enough to either survive or die on its own. Instead Uncle Sam provides the canals and operates the system "free." Barging interests should pay the total costs of maintenance and reimburse for embedded construction costs.

Forest Service: For decades conservationists have been opposing below-cost logging. Timber sales should cover roads and mitigation. Requiring the Forest Service to show an honest profit on all sales would greatly reduce cutting.

There should be no free lunch for recreationists. National forests, along with national parks, should charge reasonable fees for use of the resources. The resources are expensive to use and maintain, and users both large and small should pay.

Others: A commission could highlight a host of other agencies where pruning would benefit the budget and nurture nature: Small Business Administration; Farmers Home Administration; Corps of Engineers; Bureau of Reclamation; big parts of the departments of Commerce Transportation, Defense and even the Treasury, plus, raising the grazing fees and charging more for mining on public lands.

The insidious "reforms' in the Contract for America are intended to freeze green laws and regulations. While resisting that browning of the good, environmentalists should recognize that the drive to cut spending is providing major opportunities to shed those New Deal anachronisms that pay people to do bad things to nature.

Scott Reed lives in Boise, Idaho.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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