Shale oil billionaire Harold Hamm said in an interview this week that clean energy doesn’t deserve federal subsidies in part because windmills are haunting to look at.
“I frankly don’t like to see a wind turbine,” Hamm told National Journal. “Once they’re there, they haunt you. That’s your viewshed. That’s what you look at. All those things standing out in the distance, we have them all over Oklahoma. And it doesn’t look very good. I frankly don’t like it.”
While arguing against wind energy tax credits, Hamm cast special treatment for oil giants as fair, because they help propel his company’s earnings. “The industry doesn’t like to put ourselves in a situation of us against them,” he said for why tax breaks should be kept for the top corporations. “Because we need them. I need them to refine our oil.” He claims even the giants, ExxonMobil and Chevron, don’t necessarily earn “obscene profits” (which were $71 billion in 2012).
Asked also about what role he sees renewables playing in confronting climate change, the top Republican donor and adviser downplayed their utility, pivoting instead to a much more controversial topic: Maybe, “we” should “provide rules” in the Middle East and Africa similar to China’s one-child policy.
“Overpopulation—that probably hurts the environment more than anything,” Hamm said. “Are we going to provide rules to stop overpopulating areas in Africa? Middle Eastern countries? Probably should. China did. Stop overpopulating areas with people. Should we in the U.S.? Maybe we should think about that, if we’re truly concerned about that.”
His answers on both counts oversimplify the issues. Oil and gas companies have received a cumulative $75 in subsidies for every $1 invested in renewables. Wind’s only active federal incentive, the production tax credit, has helped drive down the price of wind power, making it more competitive with fossil fuels that have benefited from century-old tax breaks and infrastructure.
And while population growth certainly plays a role in increasing pollution and speeding the rate of climate change, it also is surprising that Hamm would rather see parts of the world resort to extreme population control measures over embracing clean energy, which is popular even among Republican voters.
Hamm made his $11 billion fortune with Continental Resources, which earns him a spot as the 78th richest person in the world in 2012. The Oklahoma native was one of Mitt Romney’s top advisers and continues to advise Republicans on energy policy.