The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kate Colwell

Groups Calculate Tradeoff Between Big Oil Handouts and Social Assistance programs

New tool shows that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies could support schools, veterans and low income household


As the new Congress begins its work, fourteen groups from across the country are taking a stand against business-as-usual spending priorities. Together, they are releasing a Fossil Fuel Subsidies Tradeoff Calculator ( -- an online tool that compares the cost of government giveaways for Big Oil to the cost of crucial social programs, such as food stamps, Pell grants, healthcare for veterans, and many others.

Groups fighting for racial and economic justice are joining communities of faith and environmentalists to remind Congress that welfare for polluters is an unacceptable use of public money. As federal programs that feed the hungry and heal the sick struggle for funding, oil and gas companies continue to drain billions of U.S. tax dollars in the form of subsidies and other special interest giveaways.

Here are a few examples of how government handouts to dirty energy companies could be better spent:

  • A tax credit for manufacturers that Big Oil unfairly claims is equivalent to 78,282 slots for disadvantaged children in the Head Start Program.
  • Royalty-free leasing in the Gulf of Mexico is equivalent to 531,461 Pell Grants for low-income college students.
  • Government research and development programs that benefit fossil fuel companies are equivalent to average annual medical care for 192,905 combat veterans.

If budgets are ultimately about priorities, it is time to tell Congress that its real priority is the well-being of the American people, and not Big Oil's bottom line.

"Leaving the social safety net in tatters and keeping Big Oil on the dole is not just a failure to prioritize. It is a failure of conscience," said Lukas Ross, Climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "In the face of record inequality, crumbling infrastructure, and looming climate disruption, it is time for Congress to think hard about the government spending we need and the corporate welfare we don't."

"U.S. taxpayers know what the nation's spending priorities should be -- dignified jobs, resilient infrastructure, affordable health care, education without crippling debt, a clean environment," said Janet Redman, director of the climate policy program at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington DC-based think tank. Redman added, "It's an abomination that while Americans are working every day for a transition to a more sustainable, more equal and more democratic economy, members of Congress are willingly trading off our future for the short-term profits of fossil fuel executives. They should be ashamed - or better yet, fired."

"Our tax dollars should be invested in programs that lift up the American people not funneled to our country's wealthiest corporate polluters," said Allison Fisher, Energy and Climate Outreach Director at Public Citizen. "This calculator demonstrates the exact opportunity cost of continuing to shower Big Oil with government handouts. And those costs are less dollars being spent on education, healthcare for our veterans and other critical social programs. That needs to change."

"When corporations and wealthy special interests can set the political agenda, everyday Americans lose," said Marge Baker, executive vice president at People for the American Way. "This calculator highlights the real harm done in the lives of ordinary people when big money dominates public policy. Americans want a political system that prioritizes the needs of all Americans, not one that simply caters to big business."

"This tool allows individuals to see the difference we could make on issues we care about -- from feeding hungry kids to providing better health care to cleaning up our environment -- if we weren't wasting so many tax dollars subsidizing fossil fuels," said Susan Stephenson, Executive Director of Interfaith Power & Light. "Not only are these subsidies unnecessary for an established and profitable industry, they are counterproductive, because they undermine clean energy alternatives, like wind and solar. I don't think anyone would put money for oil companies on their list of spending priorities."

"Climate change is already making people hungry, and the use of fossil fuels is largely to blame, representing the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally," said Heather Coleman, Climate Change Manager at Oxfam America. "We must transition to a low-carbon global economy to save lives and shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels is fundamental to achieving this goal."

"Make no mistake: the fossil fuel industry exploits every avenue in its means to distort the political process," said Patti Lynn, Managing Director at Corporate Accountability International. "Until Congress can insulate policymaking from Big Oil and Big Energy, our representatives will continue to pander to the interests of this destructive industry at the expense of public health, critical social services, and the stability of the planet."

"Congress has stripped food assistance for kids and seniors, but they continue to give billions in handouts to the wealthiest and most polluting companies in the world, said Jeremy Hays, Executive Director of Green For All. "We the People should not be subsidizing rich polluters. Our scarce public resources should protect the health and safety of our communities."

"Let's be blunt, the propping up of oil companies while denying climate change is pure corruption," said Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, "And the Quran has warned us as such '...And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption' (Qur'an, 2:60). As a faith-base organization, we are particularly appalled at the justification of this corruption in the name of one's religion."

"I am often asked why in Europe they can make the transition to renewable energy with the support of the labor movements, but we cannot," said Joe Uehlein, Board President of the Labor Network for Sustainability. "I answer by saying that sustainability starts at the kitchen table and here in the U.S. fear is built into our system because of a very weak social safety net. In other industrialized societies no worker has to worry about health care. No worker has to worry about educating their kids, or pensions, or unemployment compensation -- these societies take care of basic human needs. We do not. This is what's holding us back. It's hard to think about the future when you're struggling every day to put food on the table, secure health care, save for a pension, and send your kids to school. This must change."

"Far too often, Congressional representatives say, 'the government is broke' as they cut vital public services and continue doling out 53% of annual discretionary spending to the Pentagon. Our communities and countries around the world are paying the price for distorted national spending priorities," said Judith LeBlanc, Field Director at Peace Action. "America's path to prosperity and security depends on the Congress spending our tax dollars on what makes the world a safer and more secure place, not on enriching Big Oil or wars that are fueled by the struggle over the control of fossil fuels. We must move the money from Big Oil subsidies and the bloated Pentagon budget to fund public services."

"What an injustice that dirty fossil fuels get the subsidies, and the health of our people gets short-changed," fumed Barbara Gottlieb, Environment & Health Director at Physicians for Social Responsibility. "Let's do away with these oil subsidies, invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and give ourselves a much healthier world."

"There are two words that perfectly describe the ongoing use of public funds to support the fossil fuel industry: climate denial," said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. "Ending fossil fuel subsidies should be the first step in fighting climate change."

Friends of the Earth fights for a more healthy and just world. Together we speak truth to power and expose those who endanger the health of people and the planet for corporate profit. We organize to build long-term political power and campaign to change the rules of our economic and political systems that create injustice and destroy nature.

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