Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told a student in New Hampshire on Wednesday that he supports killing all subsidies for oil and gas — including the billions in tax breaks the industry receives each year.
He was responding to a direct question about fossil fuels, but pivoted quickly to renewable sources of energy. “I think we should phase out, through tax reform, the tax credits for wind, for solar, for the oil and gas sector, for all that stuff,” Bush told Griffin Sinclair-Wingate, a student at the University of New Hampshire and an activist with 350.org’s action arm.
But while some environmentalists might have cheered at the comments from Bush — whose family ties to the oil and gas industry go back for decades — not everyone was impressed. Practically speaking, treating fossil fuel and renewable energy support as the same ignores the economic realities of climate change, Greenpeace senior legislative representative Kyle Ash told ThinkProgress.
“Bush’s position on energy subsidies seems disingenuous, and definitely reflects climate denialism,” Ash said.
It’s hard to measure the oil and gas industry’s total subsidies, but the industry receives $4.7 billion in production tax breaks each year alone, according to the U.S. Treasury. The Energy Information Administration estimated that in 2013 that all renewables, including wind and solar, received $3.8 billion in tax breaks. A recent report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that, worldwide, $5.3 trillion a year is spent on fossil fuel subsidies, including oil, gas, and coal.
“Massive subsidies for wind and solar are justified,” Ash said, saying there was a “huge benefit” to carbon-neutral fuel. “Portraying all energy subsidies as equally bad ignores or rejects that fossil fuels create massive negative externalities, the largest and growing category being the hundreds of billions of dollars already spent on climate impacts.”
Bush has not admitted that climate change is a pressing issue for the economy, health, and human safety. In fact, in May, he said that accepting the science of climate change is “arrogant.” And when the pope released an encyclical on the climate, Bush said he wouldn’t get “economic policy” from his church leaders.
Bush’s false comparison of fossil fuel subsidies subsidies to renewable energy subsidies hits up against another issue: Fossil fuel interests have been on the receiving end of government support for a century. For instance, tax breaks for oil and gas exploration have been around since 1913. That’s a lot longer than the subsidies for renewable energy have been around, Ash said.
“If this is about leveling the playing field, let’s hear his position on oil and gas receiving subsidies 60 years longer than renewables, and more than 10 times the federal support. There is a legacy of government support for dirty fuels that a sudden impartial subsidy reform could not correct, even it did create some mythical, ideal free market,” he said.
Bush, however, would rather “let the markets decide,” adding later that he doesn’t “think we should pick winners and losers.”
A spokesperson for the Bush campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.