Despite the clear need to move away from a fossil fuel-based energy system, U.S. taxpayers continue to line the pockets of oil, gas, and coal companies with subsidies and tax giveaways projected to cost more than $135 billion over the next decade.
In a bid to stem what they call "polluter welfare," Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) marked Earth Day on Wednesday by introducing new legislation (pdf) that would end tax breaks for fossil-fuel industries, recoup taxpayer-owed royalties for fossil-fuel related practices on public lands and waters, and prioritize federally-supported research for clean energy projects. Further, the measures would also prevent companies from escaping liability for spills or deducting clean-up costs from their taxes.
A number of environmental groups were quick to applaud the effort.
In an op-ed on Wednesday, Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, which is among the organizations backing the measure, said that ending such fossil fuel subsidies is one of the "easiest first steps" the U.S. can take to confront the growing climate crisis.
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Would you believe that the Department of Energy is still co-signing loans for boondoggle projects that pretend coal can be clean? Or that the Department of Transportation is still handing out grant money to oil train operators, essentially subsidizing the unsafe cars that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Canada? Or that Congress is still shoveling billions into the pockets of oil, gas and coal interests, ensuring that these companies remain some of the most under-taxed in our entire economy?
He added that forcing polluters to pay their fair share by kicking them off of "corporate welfare" will "raise revenue for much-needed social programs, protect our air and water, and makes the cost of burning carbon a little closer to the true costs of the damage it inflicts."
Over the past 10 years, the five most profitable oil companies—ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhilips—together made more than $1 trillion in profits.
"At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies' already enormous profits," Sanders said in a press statement.
And Ellison added, "They don’t need any more tax giveaways."