Senate votes to continue big oil subsidies

Senate votes to continue big oil subsidies

Even as a non-partisan report was released showing that cutting tax breaks for oil companies would probably not result in higher pump prices for American drivers, the United States Senate voted Tuesday to continue letting oil companies avoid taxes.

Colorado’s two senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, voted with the majority to end the tax breaks, but as the measure needed 60 votes to pass, it fell largely on party lines.

From The New York Times:

The Senate on Tuesday blocked a Democratic proposal to strip the five leading oil companies of tax breaks that backers of the measure said were unfairly padding industry profits while consumers were struggling with high gas prices.

Senate pages delivered charts about tax breaks for oil companies to the chamber on Tuesday. Democrats sought to eliminate five tax breaks, producing an estimated $21 billion over 10 years.

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Despite falling eight votes short of the 60 needed to move ahead with the bill, top Democrats said they would insist that eliminating the tax breaks to generate billions of dollars in revenue must be part of any future agreement to raise the federal debt limit.

“We have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota. “While oil prices are gouging the pocketbooks of American families, these companies are on a pace for a record profit this year.”

Udall argued for the bill, while also calling on the Congress to enter into a broader discussion of energy policy. Below is the complete text of Udall’s floor speech on the subject:

Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the energy-related votes that we face this week the Senate.

Coloradans – and all Americans – are feeling the sting of skyrocketing gas prices. And “pain at the pump” puts a crimp in the budgets of hardworking families and small businesses everywhere. I hear this every time I am back in my home state, talking to folks. They think it’s unfair – and I agree.

Runaway gas prices are not acceptable … and we must work across the partisan divide to bring a stop to it.

In fact, I recently called on the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative to do everything they can to crack down on global oil market manipulation. And I joined my colleagues in urging the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to ratchet up their efforts at preventing over speculation in oil trading domestically. Taking these steps would help reduce the chance that market manipulation is hurting American consumers.

But from a larger perspective, the challenge is that we simply do not have any quick fixes. And substantial relief today would have required us to take steps years ago to reform our energy system – but unfortunately we let those opportunities pass us by. That is the unvarnished truth the American people need to hear, not false promises or bumper sticker solutions.

The real solutions involve tough choices and strategic investments in clean energy that will help wean our nation off foreign sources of oil. It really is the only way we will be able to dig ourselves out of this hole and lower gas prices. And importantly – it’s one of the ways that we will get the United States back on the path to winning the global economic race.

Unfortunately, neither of the votes that we will take this week will reduce gas prices for consumers. Like most Americans, I’m frustrated that once again politics is getting in the way of progress. I’d much rather that we be debating a comprehensive energy policy this week that includes a renewable electricity standard, promotes energy efficiency and encourages responsible development of domestic resources like safe nuclear power and natural gas.

We need to move beyond partisan fights and blame games. Instead, we need to work toward what we all can agree are key priorities: developing energy that brings affordable prices to American families and businesses; building a sustainable long-term energy future; and doing it in a way that protects our clean air and water for future generations. Put simply, establishing energy security – perhaps above any other issue – will assure our nation’s future success.

Now, we each often say that our states are the best laboratories to create innovation. But in Colorado, we have a great example of this in action.

Back in 2004, Colorado cast aside partisan politics and bumper sticker solutions by taking a big, brave step forward and embraced the emerging clean energy economy. That year I led a bipartisan ballot initiative with the former Republican Speaker of the Colorado House, Lola Spradley, in a campaign to convince the voters of Colorado to approve a state-based RES that would harness renewable resources like the sun, the wind, and geothermal energy. We barnstormed the state, speaking over and over again – to anyone who would listen.

There was a lot of industry opposition to an RES, and dire predictions that it would cost consumers money and damage Colorado’s economy. But, Mr. President, those arguments were proven wrong. And Colorado industries, consumers and people across the political spectrum have embraced clean energy as part of Colorado’s effort to win the global economic race.

In fact, last year, the Colorado legislature approved and former Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill to increase the RES standard even further: from 20 percent to 30 percent renewable energy by 2020. This makes the Colorado RES the second most aggressive standard in the nation, only after California.

Even more refreshing is that in the years since Colorado established one of the earliest and strongest Renewable Electricity Standards our energy producers have embraced the move. One of our state’s largest utilities, Xcel Energy, has become a national leader in clean energy. In proving that clean energy can be profitable and competitive, Xcel is making the case for how an RES can create jobs, stimulate the economy and help us achieve energy independence.

The clean energy economy is one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century, and the global demand for clean energy is growing by one trillion dollars every year. The lesson to be learned from Colorado is that clean energy can unleash the American entrepreneurial spirit. We must pursue forward-thinking policies that will help America seize and lead this growing market.

Make no mistake – we are in a race against foreign competitors and are quickly being left behind. Last year, I returned from China where I discussed clean energy issues with American businesses located there. I saw it firsthand…they are ready to eat our lunch when it comes to clean energy. China is pursuing renewable energy and clean energy technology so ambitiously, not because they want to save the planet, but because it makes good business and economic sense.

In fact, China has announced that it is investing over $738 billion dollars over the next 10 years in clean energy development – nearly the size of our entire American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Just imagine, their economy uses a comparable amount of energy, but they take clean energy so seriously that they plan to invest a stimulus-sized amount of money solely in renewables.

But we can’t just rely on renewable energy … rather, America must have an all-of-the-above energy policy. For example, conservation and energy efficiency efforts offer the quickest way to reduce energy demand today. And safe nuclear energy and natural gas can and should fill a larger share of our energy portfolio as they both are cleaner fuels. In addition, we all know that America will be dependent on fossil fuels for years to come … so, it’s not realistic to exclude them in our strategy. All of these elements should be in America’s energy mix and we must acknowledge that to really embrace 21st century solutions.

But when you look at the future demands for clean energy and the economic opportunities ahead of us, renewable resources hold the greatest promise. And the more home-grown renewable energy we can produce, the less money we need to spend buying oil from foreign nations who wish to do us harm – which means less money spent at the gas pump. I don’t think anyone in this chamber can argue with the proposition that we should be moving aggressively toward energy independence with dividends like that.

It is time we made a concerted national effort to reclaim our position at the front of the pack. We should be harnessing the wind and sun and other renewable resources here in America, and putting Americans to work in good-paying jobs developing, building, and leading the clean energy revolution. It’s an example of what we call back home “Colorado common-sense.”

But instead of pursuing those common-sense goals that are sure to move our economy forward, we are here today exchanging political punches on issues largely unrelated to our energy independence and the prices Americans pay at the pump.

While I support reducing tax breaks for the five largest oil companies, I honestly wish this issue was a smaller part of a larger discussion on a comprehensive energy strategy that allows the U.S. to lead the global economic race. That said, I will vote to repeal these needless tax breaks for BIG oil. Traditional energy production has received billions in subsidies over the last 70 years. And the top five oil companies in particular make billions in profits that far exceed the need for government support.

I happen to agree with the thousands of Coloradans who have told me: these companies – among the biggest in the world – don’t need and shouldn’t receive taxpayer money, especially as we look for ways to consolidate our tax code and reduce the deficit.

Now, it’s important to me that this bill is limited to the top five companies and does NOT include small, independent producers that provide many jobs in Colorado. I should note that there are some tax credits – like the production tax credit for wind, the investment tax credit for solar, and the intangible drilling costs tax credit for SMALL oil and gas producers – that are important to jobs in Colorado and across the country. While my ideal energy market would be free from any tax credits, I also want to make sure we continue to invest in domestic energy industries that still need help getting off the ground. Just as with most policy, it is a delicate balance.

As I wind down my remarks today, my request to my Senate colleagues is that we would take responsibility for our economic future and get serious about energy independence. This means shedding our doctrinaire positions, and our “my way or the highway” approaches.

There are ways to responsibly drill for oil while also increasing our renewable electricity usage.

There are ways to safely expand nuclear power while also boosting energy efficiency.

There are ways to harness natural gas as a bridge fuel while also spurring a generation of electric cars.

These are NOT either-or propositions.

We must seize this clean energy opportunity so that two, four, and 10 years from now we are not still sidetracked on political infighting because we’ve once again failed to make the tough decisions. A comprehensive energy policy is critically important to our nation’s economic recovery and our long-term energy future. Believe me, Americans are ready for it – in fact, they are demanding it. Thank you.

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About the Author

Scot Kersgaard

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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