by Senator Bernie Sanders
The Big Energy industries (oil, coal and gas) along with their political allies like Mitt Romney are waging war against sustainable energy and the need to transform our energy system and reverse global warming. In many instances they are aided and abetted by the very powerful nuclear power industry.
One of their main lines of attack (used repeatedly by Romney in his first debate with President Obama) is that the federal government is picking energy “winners and losers.” In fact, Romney has said he will not invest in “chasing fads and picking winners and losers” among energy technologies and he will allow the free market to determine energy development.
Romney is right about one thing. The government does pick winners and losers in the energy sector. What Romney has not told the American people, however, is that the big winners of federal support are the already immensely profitable fossil fuel and nuclear industries, not sustainable energy.
As a member of both the Senate Energy and Environment committees, I am working to stop the handouts to the fossil fuel industry. I have introduced legislation called the End Polluter Welfare Act. Rep. Keith Ellison filed the companion bill in the House of Representatives. Our measure calls for the elimination for all subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries. Using the best available estimates from the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation and other budget experts, we found over $113 billion in federal subsidies will go to fossil fuel corporations over the next 10 years alone. These subsidies benefit some of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, including the five largest oil corporations, which made a combined profit of $1 trillion over the last decade. Unlike sustainable energy incentives, many of these fossil fuel subsidies are written permanently into the tax code by industry lobbyists, which means they never expire.
Let me give you just a few examples of outrageously strong federal support for Big Energy companies:
- BP, after committing one of the worst environmental disasters in the modern history of America, was able to take a large tax deduction on the money it spent cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Coal companies are able to sign single-bid sweetheart leases to mine on federal lands without paying fair value in royalties to the taxpayers of this country.
- In 2009, Exxon-Mobil, one of the most profitable corporations in this country, paid no federal income taxes, and in fact received a rebate from the IRS. Many other large and very profitable oil companies also have managed to avoid paying federal income taxes in certain years.
But it is not just fossil fuel companies. The nuclear industry also benefits from massive corporate welfare. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service reports that the nuclear industry has received over $95 billion (in 2011 dollars) in federal research and development support in the last 65 years. Nuclear corporations currently have access to billions in federal loan guarantees to build new plants and enrich uranium. They also have federal tax incentives for mining uranium, producing nuclear electricity and even decommissioning a plant.
Perhaps most significantly, the nuclear industry would collapse tomorrow without a huge nuclear insurance program from the federal government. The Price-Anderson Act could, in the event of an American nuclear disaster, force taxpayers to pay out tens or even hundreds of billions in damage claims. Nuclear power is so risky that none of Mitt Romney’s Wall Street or free market friends will provide that type of insurance.
Let’s be clear. The war against sustainable energy by the Big Energy companies has been extremely successful. During the last year, with almost unanimous Republican opposition, Congress has not been able to extend a very successful program, the 1603 grant, which had supported over 20,000 sustainable energy projects and tens of thousands of jobs. Congress also has been unable to extend the Production Tax Credit which primarily supports wind energy. The result has been significant layoffs and cancelled projects in the wind industry.
What has not been often enough pointed out is that despite all the opposition, all of the lies coming from fossil fuel sponsored think tanks and the right-wing media, this country has made significant and important progress in moving toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
That progress is critical in the fight to reverse global warming, which the vast majority of scientists who study the issue consider to be one of the greatest threats to our planet. With strong federal intervention, we have made some good progress in recent years, but clearly much more needs to be done. Let me just mention a few energy success stories.