Navin Nayak is an environmental advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). For more detail about the energy bill from U.S. PIRG, click here.
If insanity is indeed doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, someone ought to check in on the U.S. Congress. For the fifth straight year, the House of Representatives is set to debate an energy bill chock-full of corporate welfare for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries and woefully short on innovative policy solutions to address our nation’s energy problems. Despite widespread public and political opposition—and countless analyses documenting the futility of the bill—Congress returns year after year with a virtual carbon copy of the original energy bill introduced in 2001.
While the price tag of the bill has fluctuated over the years between excessive and exorbitant, one thing has remained constant: It will do nothing to solve the nation's energy problems. It will not lower gas prices, not lower electricity prices, not even lower our dependence on oil. Last year, the Energy Information Administration (the analytical arm of President Bush’s Department of Energy) concluded that despite spending billions of dollars, the energy bill would result in an 85 percent increase in U.S. imports of oil by 2025.
Just in time for Earth Day—with gasoline prices and oil profits hovering at record levels—and America’s dependence on oil increasing by the day, the House has decided to re-introduce virtually the exact same do-nothing bill as last year.
The latest House bill contains more than $80 billion in authorized spending and another $8 billion in tax breaks, 95 percent of which benefit the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries. Don’t check your glasses, you read it right—the House is actually proposing to spend $88 billion dollars on a bill that will neither save a drop of oil, nor help consumers at the pump. (Click here for a cost analysis of the bill from Taxpayers for Common Sense.)
In a year when ExxonMobil reported record profits in excess of $25 billion, Congress wants to give the oil and gas industry another $3.2 billion in tax breaks, equivalent to 40 percent of the total tax package. Among the most egregious provisions is a tax break that will allow the industry to write off the cost of exploring for deposits—even in instances when they actually strike oil.
In addition to these direct subsidies, the energy bill would cost taxpayers billions more by forcing states and local communities to pay for the cleanup costs associated with decontaminating drinking water polluted with the gasoline additive MTBE. The energy bill would shield the oil industry from any responsibility for the contamination problem; although oil companies are responsible for putting the chemical in our gasoline, taxpayers will be forced to pay to get it out of our water. Who knew that the free market came with so many free lunches?
While the energy bill is loaded up with billions of dollars in giveaways to big oil, conspicuously absent from the bill are any provisions that would actually reduce America’s dependence on oil. Requiring an increase in the fuel efficiency of our cars—currently at a 25-year low—to 40 miles per gallon would cost taxpayers nothing but would reduce America’s oil consumption by 5 million barrels a day.
As much as Congress has tried, the reality facing this nation is unchanged. Each day, the United States uses more than 20 million barrels of oil. In one year, we use in excess of 7 billion barrels of oil, or 25 percent of the world’s oil production. But the United States only possesses 2-3 percent of all known oil reserves in the world; this is simply not a problem that we can drill our way out of.
If Congress or the president had taken steps five years ago to increase the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, we would already be climbing out of the dependency hole we’ve fallen into. Instead, our politicians in Washington continue to dig deeper, hoping to find an answer that doesn’t exist. Call me crazy, but that just doesn’t make sense.