WASHINGTON -- As the congressional leaders decide on members for the new bipartisan debt-reduction super committee, green advocacy groups are already on the offensive, calling on the committee to cut billions of dollars in tax breaks and energy subsidies for the oil and gas industry.
Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, suggested raising revenue by increasing taxes on energy companies.
"The fact is that some members of the super committee, instead of looking at jobs in the past year, have used the false argument of EPA regulations as job killers, which is just nonsense," Slesinger added.
Repealing the tax breaks and subsidies could save the government around $50 billion over ten years, $37.2 billion from energy subsidies and $21 billion from oil and gas tax credits. The committee is charged with finding by $1.3 trillion in savings over the next ten years.
But the cost of such subsidies, green advocates and academics allege, is actually much larger.
A Harvard study published earlier this year found the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated from its production cost the U.S. public more than $345 billion annually.
"There are a lot more subtle ways that the status quo or 'dirty industry' is subsidized," said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace U.S. "It includes being able to write off legal fees, being exempt from certain regulations, there’s a massive Superfund exemption ... we don’t think the meager tax credits that exist for wind and solar should be on the chopping block."
NRDC and 11 other environmental groups told House and Senate leaders on Tuesday exactly where they want energy cuts to be made.
“Any deficit deal must represent a balanced approach that focuses both on cutting wasteful subsidies that harm the public interest and raising significant revenues,” wrote the groups in a letter sent to Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House leaders John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Any other approach is quite simply a decision to dismember vital programs that keep our air clean, our water safe to drink, and preserve our natural heritage.”
Cuts suggested in the letter included:
*Eliminating tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, which could save taxpayers $100 billion over 10 years.
*Reducing subsidies to corporate agriculture interests and eliminating ethanol tax credits, which could save taxpayers $50 billion over 10 years.
*Reducing public land grazing subsidies for livestock operators and cutting wasteful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water projects, which could save taxpayers hundreds of millions more.
Reid's committee selections -- Max Baucus, John Kerry and Patty Murray -- signal an auspicious beginning for those hoping to end subsidies for big oil. All three have supported Democrats' effort to gut fossil fuel subsidies in the past, suggesting they may push to end such subsidies as a way of trimming the deficit.
The GOP, meanwhile, has partisan picks of its own. Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress reports that four of the six Republican committee members are climate change deniers and every Republican on the committee has voted to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
Reid's left-of-center picks set up a deadlock on energy issues, GOP energy strategist Mike McKenna told Politico.
"Patty Murray's never passed anything in her life and neither has John Kerry," McKenna said, according to Politico. "With the exception of Baucus, they're not exactly dealmakers."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has yet to make her appointments to the committee.