Is Congress listening? Save outdoor industry jobs, cut oil and gas subsidies

While all kinds of ideas for cutting the federal budget deficit are swirling around the Capitol, The Wilderness Society is making one thing abundantly clear: Congress should stop its assault on wilderness and the recreation economy and instead make green-friendly cuts like eliminating oil and gas-industry subsidies.

“Turning conservation funding into an environmental piñata would cause people across the country to lose a wide variety of jobs that revolve around the great outdoors,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “We shouldn’t blindly whack the budget with a stick. The right place to start making strategic decisions is with the piles of taxpayer dollars we dole out as treats to wealthy industries that already make billions in profits each year.”

The active outdoor recreation economy alone generates $730 billion in total economic activity, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. In addition, it contributes $88 billion in annual state and federal tax revenue. Federal investment in public lands (parks, refuges, trails, rivers, recreation areas and national forests) drives a recreation industry that supports 6.5 million U.S. jobs. Whether manufacturing, retail or service related, most of these jobs are resource or tourism-based jobs that cannot be exported.

Looking forward, outdoor recreation has the potential to create an additional 100,000-200,000 U.S. jobs.

Despite the value of what recreation jobs provide local communities, many in Congress are still targeting all things green in their efforts to reduce the deficit. The Senate is in the process of running spending bills through committees that could saddle them with add-on language – “riders” – that bring a host of ills. House Republican leadership, meanwhile, is again threatening to go back on the budget compromise they agreed to by forcing even more misguided budget reductions. Then there’s the wild card – the so-called deficit super committee of House and Senate members mandated by the debt ceiling compromise: It has until Nov. 23 to develop its proposals for reducing the deficit.

Meadows thinks it’s imperative to make the first budget cuts come from the oil, gas and coal industries. Congress continues to reward them with $4 billion in annual subsidies. “It defies logic to swipe money from Americans who are struggling through a brutal economy and give it to some of the wealthiest corporations in the world,” Meadows said. “That’s money that just goes up in smoke and further pollutes our air and water.”

The Wilderness Society detailed a host of potential environmentally sound cuts in the conservation community’s 2012 Green Budget report to Congress. Its recommended offsets will save taxpayers over $118 billion over the next five years. Examples of program and subsidy cuts include cutting funding for wasteful and environmentally damaging Army Corps of Engineers water projects, saving taxpayers $1 billion annually, and a plan to enforce Gulf of Mexico oil and gas company taxes that will provide $7 billion over the next 5 years.

Another diverse coalition whose members range from conservation organizations to tax watchdog groups put out a similar report that outlined other cost savings for Congress. Its Green Scissors report provides a roadmap to saving up to $380 billion over five years by curbing wasteful spending that harms the environment. That amounts to a full quarter of the savings the new congressional Super Committee has been charged with obtaining, in half the time.

“These common sense cuts represent the lowest of the low hanging budgetary fruit,” said Taxpayers for Common Sense President Ryan Alexander. “Lawmakers across the political spectrum should be scrambling to eliminate these examples of wasteful spending and unnecessary tax breaks that are squandering our precious tax dollars while the nation is staring into a chasm of debt.”

As the fight on Capitol Hill continues, The Wilderness Society will work to protect our wild places by pushing for green-friendly cuts that can help get our country out of the red.