By U.S. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS and U.S. REP. KEITH ELLISON
At a time when we have a more than $15 trillion national debt, U.S. taxpayers are set to give away roughly $110 billion to the oil, gas and coal industries over the next decade. We cannot afford it.
The five largest oil companies made more than $1 trillion in profits in the last decade, and in some cases paid no federal income taxes for part of that time. They certainly don’t need government handouts.
We need to end this corporate welfare in the form of massive subsidies and tax breaks to hugely profitable fossil fuel corporations. It is time for Congress to support the taxpayers’ interests instead of powerful special interests like the oil and coal industries. That’s why we introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act — which eliminates every subsidy to the oil, gas and coal industries.
The bill already has grass-roots support from across the political spectrum, including 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and many others.
Some of the same Republicans in Congress who advocate savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security consistently vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for Exxon Mobil, one of the most profitable corporations in U.S. history. While those members of Congress fight to continue fossil fuel subsidies worth tens of billions, they are working overtime to deny a one-year extension of key sustainable energy incentives for the emerging wind and solar industries.
Rather than pass strong legislation to help reverse global warming, Congress continues giveaways to the fossil fuel industry — even as its carbon pollution devastates our planet.
While there have been attempts to remove some of these fossil-fuel subsidies in the past, our bill is the most comprehensive. It would end all tax breaks, loopholes and federal research support for fossil fuels. It would make sure the industry pays its fair share by ensuring royalty collection for all drilling or mining on public land. We also end the loopholes that allow tar sands pipeline operators avoid paying clean-up tax.
It is important that the American people understand just how egregious these fossil fuel handouts are:
• A Tax Deduction for an Oil Spill? - We all remember the tragedy of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Less well-known is that BP is claiming a $9.9 billion tax deduction on the money it had to spend cleaning up its own mess and paying for damages it caused. That is absurd.
• They Manufacture What? – Coal and oil lobbyists added fossil fuels to a bill aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers with special tax deductions. The added cost for taxpayers: $12 billion over the next 10 years.
• Good Enough for Big Oil, but not Clean Energy – Special financing arrangements, called Master Limited Partnerships, allow oil and gas investors to avoid paying certain corporate income taxes. But these are not available to clean energy businesses. Closing this loophole saves government an estimated $2.4 billion over the next decade.
• Free Federal Oil and Gas Leases? - Fossil fuel corporations are supposed to pay the government fair market royalties in exchange for the right to drill on public lands or in federal waters. But thanks to a loophole, some corporations drilling in the Gulf of Mexico pay zero in royalties. This could cost taxpayers up to $53 billion over the life of these leases, according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office.
These are some examples of the obscene subsidies that the oil, gas and coal industries reap from the government every year. With the enormous sums these industries spend on lobbying and campaign contributions – made worse by the unlimited corporate campaign spending ushered in by Citizens United – passing a bill like ours will not be easy.
But we also know that the American people are angry and frustrated with a government beholden to special interests. They want their elected officials to stand up for the needs of working families and our environment, not for Big Oil.
The fossil fuel industry may seem to have a virtually unlimited supply of money and lobbyists in Washington, but it can still be defeated. If the American people stand up and demand a fair budget that finally requires the fossil fuel industry to pay its fair share in taxes, we can defeat them.
If the American people demand that we transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we can defeat them.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) serves on the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
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Jason Kowalski (at right) holding a canceled subsidy check.