Coloradans forced to pay twice for gasoline

In Colorado, Clean Water Action and Colorado Conservation Voters held events on Tax Day to hold Congressmen Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton accountable for the special tax breaks and subsidies they are handing out to Big Oil. While at local gas stations, citizens asked why they were being forced to “shoulder more than $157 million of the burden for oil and gas tax breaks” especially when gas prices are at an all time high.

Fat Cat takes photos with drivers calling an end to taxpayer handouts to Big Oil. Source: Clean Water Action

“It’s high time Coloradans stop paying twice for gas – once at the pump and again on Tax Day,” said Gary Wockner, director of Clean Water Action. “We should end the billions in taxpayer handouts to Big Oil fat cats, but Reps. Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton have voted a half dozen times to protect Big Oil tax breaks.”

According to Clean Water Action:

Coloradans are paying just over $3.85 a gallon for gas, $0.29 more per gallon than one year ago. While Colorado families struggle to adjust to higher energy prices, the top five oil and gas companies alone reported $137 billion in profits this past year.

Oil and gas interests have given more than $6.8 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress so far this election cycle, 88 percent of which went to Republican members.

Rep. Mike Coffman has taken $164,800 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, and Rep. Scott Tipton has taken $104,600.

“Big Oil is buying-off our members of Congress, including Reps. Coffman and Tipton, to keep protect billions in special tax breaks,” said Wockner. “No wonder the only solution to gas prices these politicians offer up are gimmicks like ‘drill, baby, drill.”

“Instead of taking money from Big Oil, the Congressmen should vote to end Big Oil tax breaks and reinvest those funds in long term solutions such as transportation improvements, the next generation of renewable fuels, and high tech vehicles,” concluded Wockner.

Oil and Gas Funded Congressmen Push Bill Cutting Energy Funding, Except For Oil and Gas

by Gabe Elsner

Today Representative Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced legislation (PDF) that would eliminate investment in renewable energy, while leaving in place $72 billion in tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. They claim their bill, H.R. 3308, doesn’t target a specific industry, but according to a report from the American Petroleum Institute, the two oil and gas subsidies it “cuts” have already (PDF) been zeroed out of the budget.

Combined, these congressmen have accepted more than a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Broken down by sector, the oil and gas industry is Rep. Pompeo’s biggest contributors by a more than 3:1 margin.

The bill maintains more than $72 billion in subsidy spending on the oil and gas industries.

I attempted to ask Rep. Pompeo about this glaring omission from his bill. But I was denied access to the press briefing. So I will ask it here:

How can you claim to look out for American taxpayers when your bill only removes two zeroed out oil and gas subsidies and leaves the $72 billion in actual oil and gas tax breaks alone?

Andrew Morriss: Bought and Biased Pundit on MSNBC

On Monday, Andrew Morriss of the Mercatus Institute was a guest on the Dylan Ratigan Show. In a recent profile of the Industrial Wind Action Group, the Checks and Balances Project highlighted Mr. Morriss one of the many “experts” using disinformation to attack renewable energy.

The Mercatus Institute has received millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, and like most front groups, uses folks like Mr. Morriss, a Mercatus senior fellow, to promote fossil fuel talking points while posing as unbiased experts.

In addition, Mr. Morriss’ most recent book, The False Promise of Green Energy, was published by the Cato Institute, which received over $15 million of fossil fuel funds. In the book, he bashes the clean energy industry, claiming he wants a “free market.” True to form, he is quiet on the fact that the fossil fuel industry not only receives billions of dollars more in direct subsidies every year, but total fossil fuel subsidies could be as high as $52 billion per year (.pdf).

Fortunately, Mr. Ratigan and his panel were able to hit back on the true cost of fossil fuel subsidies. Watch the excerpt below as Professor Morriss tries to dodge the question as Dylan Ratigan and his guests ask about subsidies for the dirty energy industry. Click here to watch the full video.

Is Rep. Lamborn promoting unsafe CX?

On Friday, Rep. Doug Lamborn’s Energy & Minerals Subcommittee is holding a hearing to examine categorical exclusions, or CX. During the Bush years, BLM officials used CX to avoid conducting comprehensive environmental impact studies prior to green lighting drilling permits. In May of 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reformed the use of CX in drilling permitting to avoid its abuse. Naturally, the oil and gas industry was unhappy to have to play by the rules. So enter Big Oil investment Rep. Lamborn to claim that a lack of CX is hurting the oil industry.

Originally used for streamlining low impact developments like safety fences or wildlife perches, five years ago CX changed. President Bush signed a law expanding the types of CX to cover oil and gas drilling projects. For the duration of the Bush administration, Bureau of Land Management officials applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from October 2010, from 2006 to 2008 the Bush BLM used CX in 61,000 cases, or 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted.

That same report stated that in 85 percent of the cases sampled, the CX were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued. In some cases, the GAO wrote, the CX, “may have thwarted (the National Environmental Policy Act)’s twin aims of ensuring that BLM and the public are fully informed of the environmental consequences of BLM’s actions.”

Rep. Lamborn’s hearing is titled, “Impacts to Onshore Jobs, Revenue, and Energy: Review and Status of Sec. 390 Categorical Exclusions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” One statistic that probably won’t be brought up, at least not by Rep. Lamborn or his fellow Big Oil investments on the committee, is that onshore drilling activity is back to pre-recession levels and nearing a twenty-year high in the United States. Another is that the Interior Department expects to issue more than 40 percent more drilling permits in 2011 than it issued in 2010.

Finally, according to the Bureau of Labor Standards, the energy industry is adding an average of roughly 6,000 jobs per month so far this year.

The moral of this cautionary tale about CX is that BLM’s efforts to ensure common sense protections of our water, air and wildlife over the last year hasn’t hurt the oil and gas industry. After all, the oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres.

With that in mind, what will Focus on the Family have to say about Rep. Lamborn’s support of unsafe CX?

*Editor’s note: All credit for first thinking up “unsafe CX” goes to Sarah Gilman of High Country News.

Obama: Oil and gas corporations are not people

Last night on CNN, President Obama responded to Mitt Romney’s position that “corporations are people,” and singled out oil and gas corporations – identifying them as companies and not people who deserve government handouts.

“Well, if you tell me that corporations are vital to American life, that the free-enterprise system has been the greatest wealth creator that we’ve ever seen, that their corporate CEOs and folks who are working in our large companies that are creating incredible products and services and that is all to the benefit of the United States of America, that I absolutely agree with,” the president said.

“If, on the other hand, you tell me that every corporate tax break that’s out there is somehow good for ordinary Americans, that we have a tax code that’s fair, that asking oil and gas companies, for example, not to get special exemptions that other folks don’t get, and that if we’re closing those tax loopholes somehow that that is going to hurt America, then that I disagree with. “

These are the same loopholes that Big Oil has been lobbying to protect. The industry has done a good job of influencing Congress to preserve the $15 billion in corporate welfare they get while programs that help everyday Americans, such as Medicare, are starving for government support.

Even as a deficit spending crisis loomed over the nation, closing tax loopholes and ending subsidies to Big Oil were a non-starter for Congress. As we previously reported, at the height of the deficit ceiling debate – when asked, Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) would not vote down government handouts to oil and gas. Instead, he called for mass overhaul of the United States tax code.

The market has demonstrated it is time for subsidies to end. Contrary to its claims of needing corporate welfare, Big Oil has enough cash to invest heavily in the newly formed Super Committee. According to OpenSecrets, the six Republicans on the committee have collected a total of $1,029,024 in oil and gas contributions in the 2010 and 2012 cycles. The six Democrats have taken in $308,950 in oil and gas money.

Barrasso and Hastings turn energy discussion into a pro-industry spin zone

The energy debate continued to get more contentious when wildly illogical arguments were tossed out during roundtable discussion hosted by Politico.

The voices, from all sides of the energy debate, included Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Rep. Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), former head of the EPA Carol Browner and Doug Holtz-Eakin formerly of John McCain’s presidential campaign.

While DeGette and Browner pushed back on pro-industry, energy policies, Barrasso and Hastings mostly defended the dirty energy sources that fund their campaigns. Not surprisingly, the discussion took a heated turn when both were asked to vote against energy subsidies.

A time to kill subsidies?

Carol Browner wasn’t going to let Hastings and Barrasso get away with flip-flopping on their feelings over government handouts. Barrasso, who earlier in the debate made the claim that green job created in America come at the expense of two non-green jobs, got oddly squeamish when Browner asked him why he wouldn’t eliminate the subsidies to the oil industry. Barrasso who has been pushing pro-industry legislation over the past six months said Congress needed to revisit the whole tax code before focusing on just a portion of it.

The hypocrisy was immediately pointed out: “So your okay with focusing on just ethanol subsidies, but when it comes to oil subsidies you simply say you want to deal with the entire tax code? If that’s your argument, I happy to have it with the American people,” said Browner.

Hastings got dizzy on his own spin when he tried to address the issue. “Subsidies should be eliminated over time. The question is when is that time? When the market plays its role,” said Hastings to a surprised audience. If Hastings is willing to let the market decide then the record profits posted by Big Oil in the first quarter should be a clear indicator to get rid of oil and gas subsidies.

Spinning the high gas prices

While the subsidies debate was a ‘he said, she said,’ the panel appeared to run amok with solutions to high gas prices. It was even suggested that the United States should drill its way out of the problem. “It is short sided to ignore the abundance of oil in the Western lands,” he the industry-backed Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Since assuming the role (and collecting nearly $100 thousand in oil and gas campaign contributions during the 2010 cycle) has tried several times to open up land for drilling. It would also be short sided for the oil and gas industry to continue to let the 21 million leased acres go undeveloped.

Hastings’ solution was undercut by Holz-Eakin, who acknowledged that gas prices are set on a global market and that getting more fuel into the market won’t have any affect on prices in the short term. Holz-Eakin used this logic to lampoon President Obama’s deployment of the strategic oil reserve, but drifted away from the idea when compromised on Hastings spin.

Fuzzy economic memory

During a brief question and answer session from the audience Brooks Yeager of the Clean Air Cool Planet pressed Holtz-Eakin why he was not focused on reducing demand when America produces five percent of the oil and uses 25 percent of the global supply. Holtz-Eakin simply replied that he wants to get more energy out there but added no analysis to Yeager’s economic inquiry.

“He seemed to forget about economics all of a sudden, funny how that works,” said Yeager when asked by The Checks and Balances Project if he was satisfied with Holtz-Eakin’s answer.

 

A job over clean air

Among the most unsatisfying answers was Barrasso’s job attack against climate change policies. “I’d rather have a job than clean air,” he said when discussing the economics of cleaning up the atmosphere. Still no clarity on how that supports the clean energy debate. One thing is clear: During the 2012 election the GOP’s stance is to push jobs at the cost of everything else.

Connecting the dots between gas industry tycoons and the NAT GAS Act requires ink by the barrel load.

A recent investigation by DeSmogBlog and PRWatch exposes just who stands to benefit from the NAT GAS Act and the expensive tactics being used to ensure it flies through congress. The most recent tactic is a public relations campaign by Chesapeake Energy, which included the gas giant’s “Declaration of Energy Independence.”

Chesapeake Energy’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is joined by T. Boone Pickens, when it comes to who will benefit from NAT GAS Act. The legislation calls for the government to cut checks to any company that transfers its fleet of vehicles to methane gas and to have citizens shell out their taxes so that methane gas fueling stations can be constructed throughout the country.

According to the DeSmog report, Chesapeake, “will pour $150 million into Clean Energy Fuels Corporation (CEF). Energy tycoon and hedge fund manager T. Boone Pickens sits on CEF’s Board of Directors and owns a 41 percent stake, according to the company’s March, 2011 10-Q filing. That money will go toward funding methane gas fueling stations along federal highways spanning the country.

The timing of Chesapeake’s launch of the “Declaration of Energy Dependence” is no coincidence. The NAT GAS Act is at a critical stage. It currently has 183 co-sponsors, but it is also being considered at a time when the United States is trying to reduce handouts from America’s taxpayers. But with the help a public relations army that even includes a methane gas funded television network, McClendon and Pickens are betting they can buy another handout for the fossil fuel industry.

Oil & gas supported senators return the favor

Tuesday night’s vote in the Senate was telling. The vote was on a motion to proceed on S. 90, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act. If the bill had passed, over the next 10 years $21 billion taxpayer dollars would have stopped flowing into Big Oil’s bank accounts. Instead, that money would have been used to help pay down our national deficit.

oil and gas contributions breakdown

It seems like a slam dunk. The top five oil and gas companies made a combined $32 billion in profit the first quarter of this year. In just three months, five companies made so much money that even after they were done paying their employees and their overhead costs and all their bills, they still had $32 billion left. And then those companies turned to the American people, the same people who paid that $32 billion, one $4 gallon of gas at a time, and cried financial distress and said they need billions more.

The American people didn’t believe them. A recent poll shows 74% of Americans want to end Big Oil tax breaks. But some Washington politicians believed Big Oil. To be exact, 48 senators who have received a total of $21 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry believed them. Another 52 senators didn’t believe Big Oil needs billions in tax dollars, maybe that’s because those senators only received $7 million from oil and gas companies.

And no, those numbers aren’t backward. The motion passed by a simple majority, but did not have enough support to overcome a filibuster.

Tuesday night’s senate vote was a sad commentary on the priorities of our elected officials. It shows that even in the face to overwhelming popular opinion, some of them will continue to support the corporate masters who fill their campaign accounts.

Will Boehner End Oil and Gas Industry Welfare?

The price at the pump is hovering around $4/gallon, while oil and gas companies are reporting billions in first quarter profits. So wasn’t a complete shock when Speaker John Boehner said, earlier this week, that Congress should look at ending the fossil fuel industry’s multi-billion dollar tax breaks.

After all, how does Congress plan to explain to American families facing escalating energy prices that BP – responsible for the worst spill in American history – made $7.1 billion in profits in the first three months of 2011, but still needs taxpayer dollars to stay in business.

Some politicians are trying to say that ending the decade-old tax breaks will only increase the price of fuel. But without their taxpayer-funded safety net, oil and gas companies would have to compete more rigorously for consumers, which is likely to drive down prices.

The fact is that American families can’t afford to keep propping up Exxon, Chevron, Shell and other oil and gas companies. The question is whether Speaker Boehner sees that.

Watch the video of Boehner’s interview.

If Speaker Boehner agrees the time has come to end oil and gas industry welfare, it’s a drastic change in course for the House Republican conference. Representative Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget, submitted less than two weeks ago, keeps intact $40 billion in oil subsidies.

Weeks before, in early March, House Republicans voted unanimously against ending tens of billions in taxpayer subsidies to the five largest oil companies.

See what Montana Congressman Dennis Rehberg has to say.

So what’s the answer Mr. Speaker? Are you and your colleagues finally changing your minds about billion dollar tax breaks for an industry making billions in profits?

There’s nothing like an objective witness…

In the course of some routine research, Checks and Balances came across an interesting piece of information. James Schroeder, President and CEO of Mesa Energy Partners, LLC and President of the Western Energy Alliance is scheduled to be a witness at Rep. Lamborn’s hearing Tuesday.
witness_list

Schroeder contributed $2,000 to the Western Energy Alliance’s PAC in 2010.
schroeder_contribution

WEA PAC then turned around and contributed $2,000 to Lamborn’s re-election campaign.
lamborn_contribution

The question has to be asked, is this transparent government that avoids even the appearance of impropriety?

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