Time to End Big Breaks for Big Oil

For years, Big Oil – Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP, Texaco, and ConocoPhillips  – has raked in record profits. But their dividend to consumers is usually the same: higher gas prices that make it more difficult to get to work, shop for groceries or drop the kids off at school.

Americans may be used to getting gouged at the pump – but we don’t deserve to get gouged in Congress too. Yet that’s exactly what happens when those big oil companies collect billions in tax breaks on our dime.

Over the next ten years, Big Oil will swindle American taxpayers to the tune of nearly $43 billion in unnecessary tax subsidies – claiming the breaks are needed to increase domestic oil production. Despite these outrageous tax loopholes, domestic oil production has decreased steadily since 1970. Meanwhile, our continued dependence on foreign oil puts the country at a national security risk.

I’m pleased to hear the recent drumbeat in Washington to eliminate oil subsidies, and I support these efforts. But closing these tax loopholes alone won’t end America’s need for affordable energy any time soon. That’s why I’ve put forward a commonsense plan to not only end the shameless handouts to Big Oil CEOs and Wall Street speculators, but also to address America’s ever-growing need for energy – all while creating good-paying jobs right here in Iowa.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act, which I introduced earlier this week, will end the unnecessary giveaways to Big Oil and provide incentives for renewable fuel producers to expand business and develop new technologies. Just as important, it will reduce our national deficit by billions.

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Congressional Candidates' Views on Clean Energy, Climate Change: IA-03

Originally posted on The MarkUp. This is the eleventh article in a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country.


Today, we examine Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, stretching from Des Moines to the Cedar Falls-Waterloo area.  The district’s economy is heavily agricultural, but also has a large financial and insurance sector component, with Des Moines referred to as “the Hartford of the West” for that reason.  Since 1997, Democrat Leonard Boswell has represented the 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This year, Boswell is being challenged by Republican State Senator Brad Zaun.


So far in this campaign, Boswell has strongly defended his record and has attacked Zaun for “his opposition to Iowa's biofuels industry, which employs thousands of farmers and factory workers in the state.” For his part, Zaun has attempted to tie Boswell to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, while running a series entitled, “Fourteen Reasons Why We Need a New Congressman.”


On clean energy and environmental issues, Rep. Boswell has an excellent record.  In 2009, for instance, Boswell received a near-perfect 93% rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), as well as a 100% rating from Environment America. Boswell voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), an extraordinarily important piece of environmental legislation which the New York Times described as “the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change.” At the time of his vote for ACES, Boswell said that the legislation  “would harness the most innovative workforce in the world to create a clean energy future, creating millions of jobs in the process.”  Boswell added that “[e]nergy independence is vital to our national security and economic future, and this legislation advances this goal while confronting the serious challenge of climate change.”


For his part, Brad Zaun received a mediocre rating of 42% on the environment from the Iowa Sierra Club in 2009-2010.  In this video, Zaun declares, “I question global warming” and claims – incorrectly – that ACES will “cost businesses and all of us that have homes millions of dollars.”  In addition, Zaun claims that coal-fired power is far more economical than wind power (certainly not true if you count environmental and other “externalities”), brags that he’s being “compared to this one lady that says ‘drill, baby, drill,’” and argues that “we need to take advantage of our resources.”  On his website under “Energy and Natural Resources,” Zaun argues that America “must increase domestic oil and gas supply by exploring and utilizing more of the energy resources we have at home.” Message to Brad Zaun: we saw the results of that approach in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer!


On the other hand, Zaun has not joined most of his fellow Republican candidates this year and signed the Americans for Prosperity “No Climate Tax Pledge.”  Zaun also advocates “exploring alternative sources of energy…including nuclear, wind, solar and other alternative energies.” And, Zaun says, “We must be careful stewards of all of our precious natural resources by always avoiding strategies which unnecessarily damage our landscape or environment or pose health risks to our citizens.” That’s all well and good. But advocating for coal-fired power, “drill, baby, drill,” and global warming skepticism is a very funny way to accomplish those goals.


The NRDC Action Fund believes that it is important for the public in general, and the voters of specific Congressional districts, be aware of this information as they weigh their choices for November.

Show Up and Speak Up for Climate Change Legislation

Congress is heading back home for the August recess this week. Apparently our Senators need to rest after they failed to take up both a clean energy and climate bill and an oil spill bill.

Legislative inaction must be more tiring than I realized.

Still, I don’t view this month as a cooling off period. If anything, it’s time to turn up the heat.

Over the next few weeks, Senators will be holding “town hall meetings” in their states. Last year, these meetings came to define the health care debate. This year, they could help us reshape America’s energy policy.

If you are like me and you are still stunned that the Senate refused to pass a bill that would have created nearly 2 million new American jobs, put our nation at the forefront of the clean energy market and helped end our addiction to oil, then go to a town hall meeting and tell your lawmakers what you think.

Tell them that it is in America’s best interest to embrace clean energy now.

And while you are at it, please tell them to block attempts by some Senators to weaken the Clean Air Act-the 40-year-old law that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives-in an effort to further delay reductions in global warming pollution.  

Some naysayers claim that voting on visionary legislation is a risky proposition when we are this close to an election. They are wrong, and history proves it.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, 13 of the most powerful environmental laws were passed during the fall of an election year or in the lame duck sessions following elections.  

We can pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall, but only if we demand it of our lawmakers.

Use this August to make your voices heard. You can find your Senators’ schedules by checking their Senate websites, as well as their candidate websites – Republican or Democratic.

Stop the Senate from Gutting the Clean Air Act!

Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a “stop-work order” on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.

That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases.  Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.  

Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! – that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster?  Really?

Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now.  For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.

We are not experts in vote counting or horse trading. But we do know how investors and markets will respond if Congress ultimately fails to put a market-based price on carbon. The response from capital will be brutal: Money will flow to places like China, Europe and India — and U.S. jobs will go with it.

The path to creating more U.S. jobs is simple: Pass legislation that eliminates uncertainty and levels the playing field, and investors will fund projects that create good jobs here at home. Rules bring certainty, certainty spurs investment, and investment creates jobs.


Take it from investors: Removing the uncertainty, and taking a more thoughtful approach to energy policy by putting a market price on carbon, can bring home new investments and jobs — and ensure that America leads the clean energy economy.

Instead, it now looks like the Senate not only won't be moving us forwards, but instead will be trying to move us significantly – and disastrously – backwards. What's truly stunning about this possibility is that, right now, the science of climate change is clearer and more disturbing than ever.  Heat waves are getting worse, the ice caps are shrinking faster than ever, and scientists are telling us that the world is setting new temperature records almost every month, every year, and every decade.   In addition, the results of our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels were demonstrated starkly and tragically, both in a West Virginia coal mine as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, on TV screens all across America in recent months.  As if all this isn't bad enough, we also could run out of water.

The American people know this situation can't go on. In fact, recent polls show large majorities supporting an energy bill that would “[l]imit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy…by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.” In other words, this is a case where good policy – limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing our national security, safeguarding public health, jumpstarting a clean energy revolution – and good politics – strong poll results for doing just that – appear to align.  Yet, the U.S. Senate appears ready to ignore both good policy and good politics, and actually move to make matters worse by gutting the EPA and letting polluters like BP off the hook.

Don’t let them do it.  Call your Senators right now and tell them “hell no” to the “Let Polluters Pollute with Impunity Act.”  Also, while you’re at it, call the White House and tell President Obama that, if such a measure reaches his desk, he will veto it – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

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My Kids Are Losers: Commentary on the Climate Debate

The climate bill blame game has begun. When I first started writing this post about the so-called death of the climate bill, I literally pointed the finger at just about everyone, including myself. The anger poured out, and I was frank in my assessment as well as unforgiving in the motives behind this latest setback.

After I was done with my self-loathing tantrum, the kids ran in the door from camp and I was swept up in the lovely reality of my family's banter. It is summer, so the pace in our home is a bit more relaxed in the evening. We aren't quite as quick to rush through dinner, toss the kids in a bath, and then march them off to bed. Ice cream and extra cuddles are relished, and I am reminded each year at this time why I do this job.

Later, after progeny were tucked in, I went back to my draft blog post to spruce it up. I reread my rage, disappointment, and irrational ramblings and was embarrassed. And I asked myself “What good is all this blame going to do?”

At the end of the day, it is my kids – and your kids – who lose when we implode. If you think kids have a lot to say about their parents now on Dr. Phil, can you imagine what our children will say in 50 years should we fail to get our act together?

The country should be ready for this. The facts are on our side. As we witness the worst industry-caused environmental catastrophe in our history, the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6 months of any year on record, it is clear that there's never been a more urgent time to move forward with a smart clean energy and climate plan.

Unfortunately, the politicians just aren't there. At every juncture during this debate, a minority, led by the Republican leadership and supported by a few impressionable (I might say pathetic) Democrats, has obstructed the opportunity to solve America's energy problems, preferring to leave the worst polluters and the big petro-dictators in control of our energy policy, while tax-payers are forced to pay for their messes.

Oopsy… there goes that blame again. Let's focus on what we can do next.

Hope is not lost. Of course, the closer we get to the midterm elections, the more challenging passing a bill becomes. Still, it's not impossible. In fact, the Senate has passed almost every single bedrock environmental law in the fall of an election year or in the “lame duck” session following an election. Here are just a few examples:

o Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) – 1996 Amendments: 8/6/96

o Food Quality Protection Act: 8/3/96

o Energy Policy Act of 1992: 10/24/92

o Clean Air Act of 1990: 11/15/90

o SDWA – 1986 Amendments: 6/19/86

o CERCLA (Superfund): House 9/23/80, Senate 11/24/80, POTUS 12/11/80

o Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA): 10/21/76

o Toxic Substances & Control Act (TSCA): 10/11/76

o SDWA: 12/16/74

o Clean Water Act: 10/18/72

o Establishment of the EPA: first proposed 7/9/70, established 12/2/70

o National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): 1/1/70

o The Wilderness Act: 9/3/64

As this list demonstrates, the Senate and the environmental movement are no strangers to passing major legislation right before – or just after – an election.

I don't want to overpromise success. This is an uphill battle. But if you and I show up to every town hall, rally, spaghetti dinner, and other rituals of election year and fight for our kids… fight for our country… fight for our America… we can turn the tide. Without that kind of passion, we will all lose. That's an outcome we must try hard to avoid, on behalf of people, communities, large and small businesses – oh, and our kids, sleeping peacefully or playing happily around the country.

In the meantime, we must also protect what we already have, like a plethora of state laws and the federal Clean Air Act. I recommend reading David Doniger's blog on Switchboard today that really outlines how we can make progress with the tools we have right now.

In coming weeks and months, we must continue to push forward for a strong, clean energy and climate bill, just like we have done countless times in the past. I am done with blame. History is on our side. Are you?

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

No, Senator Klobuchar, More Corn Ethanol is NOT the Answer!

According to The Hill newspaper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) “is introducing legislation to expand use of renewable electricity and transportation fuels that she says is a way to increase political support for broad energy legislation among farm-state lawmakers.” Reuters adds that Klobuchar's legislation would promote “a long-term extension of biofuel tax breaks.”  Klobuchar says, “it is time to look at home-grown energy and that includes biofuels and they should be part of this.”

At first glance, that all sounds innocuous enough, but there's a major problem: Sen. Klobuchar is (cleverly) baiting the hook with a strong Renewable Energy Standard, which most environmentalists support, but at the same time she's also including the worst of the worst biofuels proposals – corn ethanol.  For instance, as Nathanael Greene of NRDC points out, Klobuchar's proposal includes a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $30 billion.  Klobuchar's legislation also appears to redefine old-growth forests as “biomass,” potentially promoting deforestation.   And Klobuchar's legislation would harm the development of truly advanced biofuels, in favor of corn ethanol.   There's more, but that's sufficient to give you a good idea of how misguided and potentially harmful this bill happens to be.

More broadly, the problem is that promoting corn ethanol actually would set us backwards on our climate and clean energy goals.   NRDC has written a great deal about corn-based ethanol, most of which is not flattering.

*From an NRDC article published in March 2010, we learn that “the current corn ethanol tax credit is effectively costing tax payers $4.18 per gallon and is driving up grain prices.”  The author, Nathanael Greene, concludes that “[w]e don't need an additional 1.4 billion gallons of corn ethanol, or the higher prices for grains and more deforestation that come with it…It's time to transition from corn ethanol's pollution and pork to a new generation of more sustainable biofuels that brings us closer to real energy independence.”

*From this NRDC article published in January 2010, it turns out that “The old, dirty ethanol industry is dominated by big companies like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Poet.” The author, Roland Hwang, adds, “It’s baffling why an industry that benefits from $4 billion a year in government subsidies can’t find a way to compete on environmental merits.”

*As Nathanael Greene points out here, “the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer.”  And, “[w]ith about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution.”

In addition to NRDC, Barack Obama also weighed in during the 2008 presidential campaign, declaring that “we're going to have a transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol, not using food crops as the source of energy.”

Last but not least, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown and Clean Air Task Force Jonathan Lewis, writing in April 2008, explained in devastating terms why corn ethanol is so problematic:

It is now abundantly clear that food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal.

Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts, and some production facilities are reportedly dumping these in local water sources.

Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm.

Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world's largest “carbon sink…”

Meanwhile, the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel — and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption.

In short, the problem is that while “biofuels” sounds as benign as apple pie, corn ethanol – the main biofuel available today – is actually bad for the environment both in the U.S. and abroad, bad for the poor, and bad for the American taxpayer.

Just to be clear, ethanol from cellulosic material is a completely different – and far superior – story from other, advanced biofuels (e.g., cellulosic), but advanced biofuels are not what Senator Klobuchar's talking about here.  To the contrary, Senator Klobuchar is using this once-in-a-generation chance for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, to push through a big agribusiness, corn ethanol boondoggle that will harm the environment, do nothing to reduce U.S. dependence on oil or to help strengthen U.S. national security.

Yes, we want increased production of renewable energy like wind and solar. Yes, biofuels done the right way could be an important part of the U.S. energy mix.  But no, Sen. Klobuchar's approach – promoting dirty, old corn ethanol – is simply not the correct approach to the energy and environmental challenges we are facing.

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