We subsidize fossil fuels and it’s incredibly stupid

You have to be shamelessly partisan or have a extraordinary tolerance for cognitive dissonance to believe as David Williams opined last week that we do not heavily subsidize oil and gas companies, especially here in Pennsylvania. He seems to have somehow convinced himself that tax incentives and below cost leases on public lands among other things aren’t subsidies just because the public usually isn’t mailing oil and gas companies weekly checks.

Giving tax incentives to drillers and allowing them to drill on public lands for pennies on the dollar are very much subsidies that we all are paying for. There is broad acknowledgement of this fact across the political spectrum.  The only real argument is just how much fossil fuels are subsidized versus clean renewables and the debate is technical and nuanced.  David however has decided to take the extreme position that there is no such thing as a fossil fuel subsidy and even claims that there is an ludicrous amount of taxpayer money going straight to solar.  The ridiculous solar subsidy total comes only from the imagination of the organization David is president of, and no reputable mainstream source sites it as fact.  Making up something or flat lying about it has become an unfortunately popular trend since Trump first entered into the presidential race and it seems that TPA is jumping on that bandwagon.

However many reliable outlets that care about being accurate like the NY Times, Washington PostInternational Business Times, Wall Street Journal and the Economist are just a few which all acknowledge we are still financially helping fossil fuel companies to produce dirty fuels. These are fuels that are killing us now, destroying local environments and ruining the world for future generations. Bloomberg News’ Editorial Board just days before David wrote his opinion wrote their own titled “Fuel Subsidies Are the World’s Dumbest Policy.”  The title gives away the ending, but here is a sample.

“Nations from the U.S. to the U.K. to Russia continue to spend billions on tax breaks and other subsidies for the production of oil, gas and coal. … These ridiculous outlays would be economically wasteful even if they didn’t also harm the environment. They fuel corruption, discourage efficient use of energy and promote needlessly capital-intensive industries. They sustain unviable fossil-fuel producers, hold back innovation, and encourage countries to build uneconomic pipelines and coal-fired power plants.”

Spot on. David might not like it, but the age of fossil fuels must come to and end. Extracting and burning fossil fuels is rushing the planet headlong towards a very different and less economically viable climate.  Billions of lives and many trillions of dollars are at stake and the sooner we can end this era of dirty energy the more lives and wealth we will save. The path towards a better future for all is actually clear and straight forward technologically and economically, and one of the best first steps we can take is to end fossil fuel subsidies at all levels of government.

However steep political hurdles remain. For instance recent research shows that ending fossil fuel subsidies in the US will only have a minor effect on key consumer costs like gasoline and home energy costs while providing the US with a powerful negotiation tool to encourage other countries to follow suit. Yet since the 2010 mid term elections congress has steadfastly refused to act on the Obama administrations calls to end them.  A related example closer to home is how the Shale Gas Alliance is using our state’s legislature to repeatedly defeat a popular gas severance tax promised by a governor who got elected on the issue.

Unfortunately David’s denial of the obvious truth is all too familiar in this arena. Fossil fuel companies and the organizations they fund to further their interests have long sought to hide the reality about the damage they are doing. They continue to be a part of the problem rather then working to be part of the solution. Although he guards the anonymity of his donors far more closely then the truth, even through the choking haze of Citizens United we can see the outlines of uber-rich science and reason denying Koch brothers. It is my hope that in the future Philly.com force TPA disclose its donors as a condition of posting their biased and extreme opinions.