Wednesday, May 11, 2011
At the end of April, Speaker John Boehner told ABC News that he would be open to reevaluating billions of dollars of subsidies received by the largest oil companies. "It's certainly something we should be looking at," he said. "We're in a time when the federal government's short on revenues… They ought to be paying their fair share."
President Obama and many in Congress seized on his remarks and renewed calls to end subsidies for big oil (see statements by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid as examples). For many, ending these subsidies does not just make economic sense, it also makes sense from an environmental perspective. While Speaker Boehner has since tried to distance himself from his comments, in the days following his statement, some in Congress used the political attention created by his words to rally around a proposal that President Obama has had on the table for some time: cut oil subsidies and divert that funding to promote renewable energy and other policies that would reduce the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels.
Yesterday, a number of Senators made another push to reduce oil subsidies by proposing to repeal $21 billion in tax incentives over 10 years for the five biggest oil and gas companies (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron Texaco). Unlike the President's idea to divert money from oil to clean energy, the Senators’ proposal would use the saving to reduce the federal deficit.
While the proposal to cut oil subsidies is by no means new, the tack of using the money to reduce the deficit has promise given the day’s broader political discussion focused on the debt and the deficit. Oil subsidies, however, represent just one of many sorts of subsidies that deserve rethinking; the government subsidizes all sorts of things that exacerbate environmental problems. In terms of political feasibility, perhaps current political pressures will provide avenues to make environmental progress by ridding ourselves of some of these harmful subsidies, particularly those that go to thriving corporate giants. Given that the debt and the environment both deserve our attention, in my opinion this sort politics in Washington is long overdue.
-- Brigham Daniels