Billions in profits, billions in subsidies: Big Oil has their cake and eats it too

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | May 18, 2011 | Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

Earlier this year in the State of the Union, President Obama implored Congress to “eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies,” noting that “they’re doing just fine on their own.”

Congress has now made two half-hearted attempts to end these taxpayer-funded subsidies to large oil companies. Last night, United States Senators took what some would consider a ‘symbolic‘ vote on S. 940, a bill trying to close $20 billion in tax loopholes for Big Oil companies. Even as opponents falsely argued that oil companies simply raise gas prices in response, more than half of the Senators voted to end the subsidies.  However, the Senate’s mostly party-line vote (2 Republicans voted for the measure and 3 Democrats voted against) couldn’t get to 60 votes and so it has the same outcome as an earlier attempt to repeal tax subsidies in the House of Representatives: the status quo for this dirty energy source is maintained.

Senate leaders promise efforts to end the subsidies would continue, perhaps as Congress begins debate on exactly how and when to increase the debt ceiling as we officially ‘hit our limit’ this week. We can only hope that discussions on whether to maintain billions in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies happen as second quarter profits are posted later this summer.

In legal circles, a judge is expected to recuse, or remove, himself or herself from a case where there is a conflict of interest or a lack of impartiality.  When you consider just how many millions Big Oil donates to members of Congress – one estimate finds that Senators who opposed the measure received five times more in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests than those supporting it – one has to ask whether we should expect or even demand similar behavior for Congressional leaders, as well.

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