Yesterday, the U.S. Senate came up short (yet again) in an effort to end billions of dollars in tax subsidies to oil companies. Despite President Obama’s plea that Senators consider the financial impact that $4 billion in subsidized tax breaks are having on our economy, the motion to repeal these subsidies was nine votes shy of the necessary 3/5 majority. This vote was a double loss for the American people because removing these unnecessary subsidies would have been a small step in leveling the energy playing field. However, with Big Oil and Big Coal commandeering the bulk of subsidies and incentives, it’s difficult to see how we will make a meaningful policy shift to renewable energy and energy conservation in the near term.
Like previous attempts to rollback Big Oil tax breaks, support for or against this measure was primarily along party lines, with only six senators crossing the aisle. I find it incredulous that so many of our elected officials can continue to defend billions of dollars in subsidies that go to companies posting record profits quarter after quarter, in part fueled by steadily rising gas prices. In the Southeast, only Sens. Hagan of North Carolina and Nelson of Florida voted to repeal these unnecessary tax breaks.
What a simple vote count can’t show you, however, is that most of the Senators who voted to maintain these subsidies didn’t just vote along party lines: they voted for their financial backers. Whether its ExxonMobil’s $5 million or BP’s ‘paltry’ $1.5 million, Big Oil’s money generously greases the halls of Congress in an effort to protect the status quo and their rich profits. And the dirty energy money doesn’t stop with liquid gold: Big Coal is even more generous with donations to politicians, with the South’s own Southern Company near the top of that list through nearly $5 million given since 1999. These donations have a price – quid pro quo if you will – and so Congressional leaders continue to promote dirty energy as policy even though the majority of Americans favor more funding and support for clean energy alternatives. So once again, it looks like the American people and businesses will have to lead and wait for Congressional officials to follow public sentiment and market trends when it comes to renewable energy and energy conservation.