Yesterday, climate change pioneer Bill McKibben and his organization, 350.org, joined with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Keith Ellison to launch a new bill that would cut $113 billion in subsidies to the coal, oil, and gas lobby over the next decade.
The oil industry received about $7 billion in tax breaks in 2011, despite record-high profits earned by the five biggest oil companies, combined with a decrease in oil production in 2011. Instead of using the subsidies provided by American taxpayers to produce more oil at lower costs, all signs point to oil company executives pocketing the cash.
How do they get away with this?
Lobbying sure helps. According to Open Secrets, the oil and gas industry has already spent $37.6 million lobbying the federal government in the first few months of the year alone. They also spend buckets of money on campaign contributions to persuade our elected officials to vote for policies they favor. A recent vote in the Senate revealed just how persuasive campaign cash can be. A bid to end taxpayer subsidies for the five biggest oil companies failed to get the 60 votes it needed. The 57 senators who voted to end the subsidies received about $6 million from the oil and gas industries, compared to a whopping $24 million pocketed by the 41 senators who voted against the bill.
This new bill is especially ambitious, aimed not just at oil companies, but also coal and gas. When I asked McKibben about the last Senate vote on the issue, he acknowledged how campaign contributions cajole lawmakers to vote against the public good:
Nobody gets up and makes an argument in favor of subsides to the fossil fuel industry, there is no argument. This is the richest industry on the planet….The only reason that you would do it is if you’ve taken little gifts from the fossil fuel industry and now you want to give them big gifts back with somebody else’s money.
In spite of the long odds against passing this bill, McKibben remains optimistic:
[T]his is turning out to be the oiliest, gassiest, dirtiest Congress ever. The spending on these guys is up again, you know. So, what are you going to do? We’re going to fight.
Watch the video below: