By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress
This past week, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded conservative group, held five events in three days across the state of Montana to stir up blame on the Obama Administration with regard to high gas prices. However, a different group of Montanans (environmentalists, labor, state legislators, and others) attended the events with an alternate message, drawing attention to the fact that Big Oil receives billions of dollars in tax breaks every year, and that these tax exemptions should be repealed in times of fiscal austerity. Rather than join this call to save American taxpayers money, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips accused the protesters of “loving” high gas prices.
Thanks to the policies of this administration, gas has doubled over the last two years. Doubled. And the truth is, and they don’t want to say this openly, although the radical ones will say it openly, the protesters here today love that. They want high gas prices because it drives their ideology that says “We don’t want a lot of energy. We want to be wind and solar, you can’t have oil, you can’t have coal, you can’t have things that give cheap, abundant energy.”
The “Running on Empty” tour that stopped in Montana this week is managed by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that is funded by the Koch brothers. The Kochs are some of the richest people in the country due to their ownership of second-largest private company in America among other business ventures, many of which are based in oil and refining. Their devotion to conservative causes that reward polluters at the expense of taxpayers and regular people has become aggressive and well-known, as seen for instance in their $1 million donation to Proposition 23, the failed crusade to repeal California’s global warming law.
Second-quarter profits for the oil companies were released a few weeks ago, and just the five largest companies have already made $67.4 billion this year. Even amongst these enormous profits, oil companies receive billions in tax breaks every year, and eliminating just a handful of them would save the government $45 billion over the next 10 years. President Obama proposed this in his 2011 budget, and some have called for elimination of oil industry tax breaks to be high on the list of solutions that the new debt “super committee” will consider.
Even though Americans for Prosperity espouses fiscal conservatism and shuns government waste, its message during the Montana events was more “drill here drill now” rather than a serious call for ending taxpayer handouts to Big Oil. As Montanan Kyla Wiens told the Great Falls Tribune, “The answer isn’t to drill or burn our way out of our energy problems. We need to move forward with clean energy, and this is just distracting attention from the real problem.”
In reality, high gas prices are not caused by a failure of the Obama Administration to open more lands to drilling (indeed Headwaters Economics found that U.S. drilling is nearly at a 20-year high), but is caused by many reasons, one of the biggest of which is speculation. A Goldman Sachs representative admitted earlier this summer that speculation adds at least $27 to each barrel of oil and Commodity Futures Trading Commission Commissioner Bart Chilton stated that speculation can drive up gas prices. And, Think Progress reported recently that the Koch brothers themselves were some of the first to engage in oil market speculation in the 1980s.