01/04/2012 12:42 pm ET Updated Mar 05, 2012

Frivolous Pork

You might agree that the 100 projects Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. recently listed to illustrate wasteful government spending don't merit taxpayers' support. That doesn't mean, however, that they were all profligate boondoggles.

While a number of projects were travesties on their face, the same could not be said of some of the environmentally-oriented ones in Coburn's alleged rogues gallery created to emphasize the need for limited government. There is legitimate debate as to what priority, if any, should have been assigned to these "green" projects in terms of federal funding. But that is a far cry from implying they were frivolous, as Coburn chose to do. If the truth be known, their implementation in varying degrees was in the national interest.

Here is a sampling from Coburn's "compendium of infamy":

  • The Department of Energy issued a $10,000 grant for a program in which trash is recycled into footwear. Any effort to promote recycling and reuse on a universal basis is indisputably in the best interests of a nation (and a world) currently depleting many natural resources at an unsustainable rate.
  • The federal government extended $42,000 for storm surge warning signs on the Texas Gulf Coast. Any initiative that discourages permanent development in environmentally fragile areas will save lives as well as money far in excess of the cost of the grant.
  • An $31,000 grant was made to help finance a four day Chattanooga, Tennessee symposium to promote the expansion of walking and biking in communities across the nation. It seems like a piddling sum when measured against the potential cost-savings these two modes of travel can provide through energy conservation and health benefits.
  • The National Park Service awarded $4,500 to an Idaho state park for experimentation with goats as instruments of weed control. In the same vein, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave $742,000 to Montana State University for study to determine how best to utilize the grazing habits of sheep to eradicate weeds. Any programs that can reduce the employment of toxic herbicides capable of leaching into the soil and contaminating ground water are likely to have a very favorable cost-benefit ratio.
  • The Agriculture Department also expended $270,000 to train Arkansas bee keepers in techniques to assure the continued health of honey bee populations. This would seem a trifling amount considering honey bees pollinate the majority of our fruits and vegetables and have been experiencing serious population decline.
  • Another Agriculture Department grant, this time in the amount of $700,000 went to the University of New Hampshire to find ways to reduce cow burps, which surpass bovine flatulence as a significant producer of methane gas, an even more potent contributor to global warming than human-generated carbon emissions. The grant is small change compared to the value of a solution.

One could go on, but the important lesson to remember for would-be reformers is that in their zeal to cull waste and limit the scope of the federal government, they don't get caught up being "penny-wise, pound-foolish."