From devastating wildfires on the West Coast to unlikely winter storms in Texas, this year has brought climate change-fueled extreme weather and deadly disasters to communities across the United States. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report issued a dire warning on the catastrophic scenarios we could experience if we fail to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At this point, it’s clear that we need to make immediate changes to avoid climate change’s worst case possibilities.
So how do we address this problem? First and foremost, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, and that means making a rapid shift to clean, renewable energy as fast as possible.
We have an opportunity to create a more sustainable future. Congress is working on a budget reconciliation bill that could shape our climate policy for years to come. This bill aims to invest trillions of dollars in renewable energy, zero-emission transportation and clean water infrastructure. In fact, one of the major goals of this legislation is to reduce emissions by up to 45%. This would be a huge step forward in the fight against climate change.
At the same time, however, we need to make sure that taxpayer dollars aren’t thwarting our clean climate goals. Every year the United States government gives away $20 billion to fossil fuel companies in the form of tax breaks, incentives and subsidies. That’s our taxpayer dollars going to an industry that not only made $28 billion in profits in 2018 alone, but is also causing the climate crisis.
Fossil fuel companies are using taxpayer subsidies to plan and develop new projects that, if completed, would introduce nearly 200 billion tons of air pollution into the atmosphere. Right now, existing fossil fuel infrastructure is set to emit 650 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the course of its lifetime. And as if that weren’t bad enough, American taxpayers are expected to pay for it with their hard earned money.
While we are trying to reduce emissions through new investments in climate-friendly technology, we must end subsidies for fossil fuels. Instead of working against the solution, we can use the $20 billion in fossil fuel subsidies to pay for the clean energy investments outlined in the reconciliation bill. Furthermore, Green Scissors, a coalition dedicated to cutting wasteful and environmentally harmful spending, has proposed a multitude of tax cuts and reforms that will save up to $300 billion over the next ten years. In the energy sector alone, the Green Scissors cuts would save a projected $114 billion.
Not only is the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies popular among the American public, but it’s a common sense solution leaders across the political spectrum can agree on. Even so, Congress continues to prop up these industries regardless of the fact that their special interests are going against the public interest.
A couple months ago, an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitted that despite their publicly stated support for climate change policies, the broader intentions of the industry remain the same: They want to keep hold of government money, even if it’s at the cost of the environment and against the public interest. Oil, coal and gas companies have a great deal of influence in the political sphere as well as deep pockets to spend on lobbying. However, with broad popular support and backing from Congressional leaders, we can stand up to their powerful interests.
This is a straightforward solution to complex problems. By eliminating fossil fuel subsidies we can help pay for the reconciliation bill. Simultaneously, we stop wasting our tax dollars on an industry that is destroying our planet. An industry that threatens our future doesn’t deserve a $20 billion gift from the U.S. taxpayer. It’s time for Congress to take an important step to save the climate by ending wasteful fossil fuel subsidies.
*This blog was written by Alex Smalto, PIRG End Fossil Fuel Subsidies Associate
Image credit: arbyreed, flickr.com