Senate sides with oil subsidies while hopes for wind energy tax credit dashed again

If you hear someone laughing the next time you fill your car with gasoline, look around and see if you can’t spot an oil executive on his way to the bank.

“Right now the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits, profits that go up every time folks pull up into a gas station,” President Barack Obama said Thursday morning. “But on top of these record profits, oil companies are getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies – a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.”

The president’s pitch in the Rose Garden came just minutes before the Senate rejected a bill that would have repealed the breaks for oil companies. With resistance from every Republican except one and four Democrats from oil-rich states, the measure garnered 51 votes to 47 but it failed to meet the needed threshold of 60. Had it passed the Senate, the GOP-controlled House was expected to kill it.

The measure also would have extended the wind energy production tax credit, along with other renewable energy incentives, and paid for it through the repeal of tax breaks for the five biggest oil and gas companies while preserving incentives for small independent producers of oil and natural gas. About $2 billion a year in breaks for oil companies would have been diverted to finance clean energy development.

“The conversations happening in Washington remain a million miles from the conversations happening in Colorado and the rest of the country,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said afterward. “The wind energy tax credit is too important to the thousands of Coloradans whose jobs are at risk for us to give up. Standing on its own, this tax credit has bipartisan support, and I believe it has the votes to pass. We will continue to look for every available avenue to advance the extension to provide certainty to this burgeoning industry, save jobs and move toward a clean energy economy.”

Republicans have attacked the Obama administration’s commitment to alternative fuels as a reason for soaring gas prices. But a CNN/ORC International poll released today shows most Americans blame oil companies for the pain they are feeling at the pump. The poll also indicated that seven in 10 of those surveyed say rising gas prices have caused hardship for them and their families.

It is no secret that oil and gas companies pour obscene amounts of money into the campaign coffers of the very politicians who make their rules. The Center for Responsive Politics notes the “industry has long enjoyed a history of strong influence in Washington. Individuals and political action committees affiliated with oil and gas companies have donated $238.7 million to candidates and parties since the 1990 election cycle, 75 percent of which has gone to Republicans.”

The Koch brothers, billionaire oil barons who own tony homes in the Aspen area, have nearly doubled their contributions to Colorado politicians in each of the last three election cycles.

Tense relationships with Iran, economic concerns in Europe and uncertainty in global oil supply are contributing to high prices at the gas pump but U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, also pointed out in a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (pdf) “the current disjointed system of energy trade leaves open the possibility of market manipulation and practices that can distort the price of energy. … I strongly believe that we need improved mechanisms for global energy trade to discourage collusion, fraud, and manipulation and to incentivize transparent, competitive, and efficient global energy trade.”

The average price of a gallon of gas in Denver is $3.71, up 9 cents from last week. Prices have been rising quickly across Colorado. Earlier this month, the state had the third least expensive gasoline in the nation. Today Colorado ranks No. 17 on the least expensive list with an average of $3.77.