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New Analysis: Fossil Fuel Industry Spent Up to $1 Billion in Last 2 Years to Buy U.S. Political System

Posted By Lowell F. on December 23rd, 2014

If fossil fuels were as wonderful as the oil, gas and coal industries would like us to believe, you wouldn’t think they’d have to spend as much as $1 billion over just the past two years “in order to secure a Congress of its choosing and a friendly energy agenda.” Yet that, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress, is exactly what they did.

With Congress largely deadlocked, oil, gas, and coal interests have increasingly focused their resources over the past two years on putting industry-friendly politicians in charge of both chambers and laying the groundwork for the new Congress to advance special-interest priorities such as approving the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing the export of American oil to foreign buyers. According to an analysis of contributions and lobbying data from the Center for Responsive Politics and advertising spending data from Kantar Media Intelligence/CMAG, as published by the Atlas Project, the fossil-fuel industry directly invested $721 million—and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars more through contributions to outside groups—in order to secure a Congress of its choosing and a friendly energy agenda. Of these investments, the fossil-fuel industry directly contributed more than $64 million to candidates and political parties, spent more than $163 million on television ads across the country, and paid almost $500 million to Washington lobbyists in the two years leading up to the November 2014 elections.

And where do the fossil fuel companies get all this money to spend nearly $1 billion in just two years trying to influence public policy? Part of it, of course, is that they are allowed to blow up mountains, treat the air and water as open sewers, and not pay for doing so.  According to a Harvard study in 2011, that costs all of us $500 billion a year in negative health, economic and environmental impacts, just looking at the coal industry alone. Second, the fossil fuel industry receives enormous direct subsidies, not to mention untold indirect subsidies. Third, this industry has gamed the system to ensure that it pays extremely low taxes. According to this July 2014 report, for instance, ” large U.S.-based oil and gas companies paid” just “11.7 percent of their U.S. pre-tax income” over the last five years, “far less in federalincome taxes than the statutory rate of 35 percent.”

On and on it goes. Then, these companies turn around and use that money to, essentially, “capture” the government in service of their interests. Does that sound like an industry that is confident it could win on its merits alone, in a fair-and-square competition with clean energy? Again, if that were the case, why would they feel the need to swamp our political system with dirty money in order to tilt the playing field in their direction? As the natural gas industry likes to say, “think about it.”

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Sen. Chuck Grassley: Wind Energy Opponents Ignore “many tax credits” Fossil Fuels Receive

Posted By Lowell F. on December 11th, 2014

We don’t usually (or ever, come to think of it) link to the anti-environment, anti-clean-energy, pro-dirty-energy Daily Caller, but this op-ed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is just too good to ignore.  According to Grassley:

  • “It seems as though opponents of wind energy try at every turn to undermine this industry. They portray the wind energy production tax credit as clutter that doesn’t belong in the tax code. But they conveniently forget the many tax credits that benefit other energy industries as permanent law, when wind energy is fortunate to receive a year or two extension at a time.
  • “…just because we haven’t cleaned up the tax code in a comprehensive way doesn’t mean that we should pull the rug out from under domestic renewable energy producers. Doing so would cost jobs and harm our economy, the environment and our national security.
  • Wind energy supports tens of thousands of American jobs, it has spurred billions of dollars in private investment in the United States, and it displaces more expensive and more polluting sources of energy. More than 70 percent of a U.S. wind turbine’s value is now produced in the United States, compared to just 25 percent prior to 2005.”
  • I don’t understand the argument that repealing a subsidy for oil or gas or nuclear energy production is a tax increase on energy producers and consumers, while repealing an incentive for alternative or renewable energy is not. It’s not intellectually honest.”
  • “…any phase-out [of tax credits for wind power] should be done in the context of comprehensive tax reform, where all energy tax provisions are on the table. And it should be done responsibly over a few years, to provide certainty and ensure a viable industry.”

Again, we never thought we’d promote a piece from the Daily Caller, given how slavishly hypocritical that publication is on the fossil fuel welfare bums. But we’re glad to see Sen. Grassley calling them out for their blatant hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty when it comes to wind power.

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Even if Keystone Trade Talk Weren’t “Empty Nonsense,” Oil Industry Doesn’t Need More Corporate Welfare

Posted By Lowell F. on December 2nd, 2014

Over at Grist, David Roberts drives a sharp stake through the heart of the idea that President Obama “might use Keystone XL as a bargaining chip to trade in exchange for Republican support for … something else.” According to Roberts, “There is nothing to this Keystone trade talk. It is vaporware.” For good measure, Roberts adds that it is “empty nonsense.” In sum: in his view, it’s not happening.

But even if this talk about President Obama trading his approval of Keystone XL for something else weren’t “empty nonsense,” as Roberts explains, there’s certainly no reason to be lavishing the oil industry with even more favors, even more corporate welfare than it’s already received over the years. To the contrary, we clearly need to be weaning ourselves off fossil fuels and switching to clean energy as rapidly as possible, for a wide variety of reasons.  Here are just a couple recent articles – courtesy of Taxpayers for Commonsense – highlighting the pervasive largesse being lavished up a fossil fuel industry which certainly doesn’t need it.

1. Effective Tax Rates of Oil & Gas Companies: Cashing in on Special Treatment: “From 2009 through 2013, large U.S.-based oil and gas companies paid far less in federal income taxes than the statutory rate of 35 percent. Thanks to a variety of special tax provisions, these companies were also able to defer payment of a significant portion of the federal taxes they accrued during this period.”

2. Taxpayers are losing millions on natural gas extracted from federal land: “Federal taxpayers lost in excess of $380 million from 2006 through 2013 on gas extracted from onshore federal leases as a result of existing royalty relief for “beneficial purposes” and “unavoidably lost” gas. Most of this loss – 82 percent – was associated with gas used by drilling operators for beneficial purposes, which allows oil and gas companies to consume publicly owned natural gas for certain defined purposes at no cost.”

That last line can be broadened out to cover the myriad number of ways government policy allows fossil fuel companies to operate (at minimal cost) on publicy-owned lands, to damage the environment and public health at essentially no cost to them, to treat our waters and atmosphere as open sewers, and to continue receiving enormous taxpayer-funded corporate welfare while doing so. The Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example, in which a foreign company (TransCanada) wants to transport dangerous, dirty Canadian tarsands oil across the United States, in order to profit from exporting much of it to foreign markets.

What does the U.S. stand to gain from this? The whopping total of 35 permanent jobs; plus the risk of catastrophic spills into our rivers, lakes and aquifers; plus exacerbation of climate change, which harms all of us. A huge net negative, in other words, for everyone other than the investors in Canadian tar sands.  Those investors, by the way, include the mega-billionaire Koch brothers, who stand to gain a great deal if this pipeline is built, as they are major investors in Canadian tar sands. The question is, why would we be going out of our way to essentially subsidize super-rich fossil fuel magnates, especially when it represents the antithesis of what we need to be doing right now for environmental and economic reasons – transitioning as rapidly as possible from carbon-based fuels to clean, renewable energy?  Got us.

Posted in Oil, subsidies, Tar Sands
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IEA: Fossil Fuels Get $550 Billion/Year in Subsidies, 4x More than Clean Energy

Posted By Lowell F. on November 12th, 2014

Need any more evidence that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized, putting clean energy at a competitive disadvantage due to governments tilting the playing field heavily in favor of coal, oil, and natural gas?  Here you go.

Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.

Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in incentives for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook.

Next time you hear a cleantech basher or fossil fuel flack talking about how government shouldn’t “pick winners and losers,” point them right here.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander: Taxpayer-Funded Corporate Welfare Bad, Except When It’s For Fossil Fuels

Posted By Lowell F. on August 27th, 2014

See below for the latest example of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s relentless push for continued, even increased, taxpayer-funded corporate welfare to the fossil fuel industry.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called on the administration to expand oil and gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf.

“There is no reason we shouldn’t be using all the resources we have available to increase our energy security, create more jobs at home and reduce our reliance on oil from countries that want to do us harm,” Alexander said Tuesday.

He made the comments after he and 20 other Republicans sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) led the letter. The lawmakers asked that the department make all offshore oil and gas resources in the Outer Continental Shelf available for development.

Now, contrast that with Alexander’s opposition to popular, effective pro-wind policies, which he calls a…yes, you guessed it, “wasteful taxpayer subsidy.” Even more internally inconsistent and illogical, Sen. Alexander claims that we shouldn’t be subsidizing a “mature technology,” which he argues “should stand on its own in the marketplace.”  Yet here he is again, pushing to do exactly that: subsidize one of the most mature technologies known to man — drilling holes in the ground and pumping out oil, something we’ve been doing for well over a century now, and something that certainly doesn’t require government tilting the playing field in its favor at this point.

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