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Clean Energy Programs 'Under Siege' by Fossil Fuel Giants: Report

Study follows 'money trail' behind campaigns against renewable energy

Common Dreams staff

Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would let wind power tax credits expire. (the Guardian/Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The US renewable energy market is "under siege" at federal and state levels by "powerful, free-spending" leaders of the fossil fuel industry, according to a new study by the Sierra Club.

Over the past decade, the fossil fuel industry has used financial contributions to political campaigns, faux think tanks, "phony intellectuals", and "astroturf groups" to shift public and congressional opinion and discredit renewable energy -- all amounting to a coordinated attack, says the organization.

The report, Clean Energy Under Siege, follows a trail of money from fossil fuel giants to politicians and non-profit front groups and highlights a current misinformation campaign against the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy, which would uphold more than 75,000 jobs in the wind industry. A bill to pass the credit is currently stalled in Congress by oil friendly lawmakers and may not be renewed by its 2013 deadline.

Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's campaign confirmed this week that he wants to end the long-standing PTCs. The PTCs would be allowed to expire at the end of this year if the Republicans secure the White House in November, reports the Guardian. Romney, however, does pledge to retain up to $40bn of subsidies and tax breaks for the oil and gas industries.

Renewable energy's recent surge in production has made it a direct target of the fossil fuel industry, the report says. Wind energy production has doubled since 2009 and the wind industry is "on track to produce 20 percent of America's electricity by 2030." Costs of generating solar energy are coming down and sales of electric cars have grown 164 percent since June 2011.

However, the oil and gas industries contributed to 387 — or 88 percent — of all members of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election cycle. The industry also contributed to 89 out of 100 senators. In both chambers of Congress combined, Republicans received 86 percent of all oil and gas donations.

"With renewable energy seeing an 83 percent approval rating among all Americans — including 63 percent support from Republicans and 84 percent support from Independents — it seems counter-intuitive that many politicians still oppose the development of clean energy. Yet the political spending power of the traditional energy industries is unrivaled," states the report.

According to statistics gathered by the Sierra Club, the oil and gas industry spent more than $146 million on lobbying alone in 2011. Oil giants David and Charles Koch gave at least $85 million to 85 right-wing “think tanks” and advocacy groups over the past decade and a half. Organizations like the Manhattan Institute and the Heartland Institute that defend oil subsidies while attacking renewable energy have received up to of $600,000 and $676,500 respectively since 1998 from the oil company Exxon.

"The Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy, and others are playing for keeps. They have unlimited resources and we have documented that they are committing them to undermining clean energy. We clearly face a dog-eat-dog environment and must respond with as much vigor and aggressiveness as those who would see wind, solar, geothermal, and other technologies fade into the sunset — a product of a brief period in American economic history when the competitive environment was a friendly place for clean energy," the report states.

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