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Stacking the Deck for Humanity

When it comes to stacking the card deck in one’s favor, no one seems more adept than dirty energy industries, namely oil, coal and gas. These companies enjoy enormous government subsidies, huge profits and executive salaries most of us couldn’t imagine.

North Carolina has an important role in leveling the playing field for renewable energy, given our renewable potential. But so far, it appears that decision-makers will continue to stack the deck in favor of dirty energy. Here’s how …


© Mannie Garcia/Greenpeace

According to independent energy expert Doug Koplow of Earth Track [2], the US spends between $49 and 100 billion on energy subsidies every year. This aid can be special tax exemptions, cash outlays, funding for research and federal loan guarantees. The lion’s share of energy subsidies go to fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and the crumbs go to nuclear, ethanol and renewable energy.

Consider the state of the dirty energy industry in the US and you’ll wonder why any assistance is needed at all.

Of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies, three are in the energy business and another three are in related industries. Profits at ExxonMobil for 2010 were reported at $30.5 billion and its CEO Rex Tillerson made $28 million. Closer to home, Duke Energy’s profits for 2010 were $1.3 billion, up 23% from the year prior and CEO Jim Rogers made $8.8 million.

President Obama has discussed cutting energy subsidies on many occasions, most recently in his proposed budget which would cut $4 billion. Unfortunately, contributions to some members of Congress from dirty energy will make it difficult for him to gain support.

Take NC Senator Burr who ranks fifth in the 111th Congress for receiving dirty energy donations – $439,000 [3] from coal, oil and utilities. From Duke and Progress Energy to the bad boy Koch brothers, Burr raked it in. When reducing or eliminating subsidies for dirty energy has been debated in Congress, Burr votes NO.

The reasoning goes like this – if subsidies are cut, for example for oil, jobs will be lost and gas prices will rise. But according to the US Treasury [4], cutting oil subsidies would reduce domestic energy production by less than one-half of 1% having little impact on American jobs. Prices at the pump are set largely by the world market, so the US Treasury says it is highly unlikely that prices at the pump would rise, but if they did, the cost is estimated to be less than one cent per gallon.

Meanwhile, a recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [5] concluded that renewable energy could supply 77% of the world’s energy needs by mid-century, if public policy and political will are stepped up – in other words, if the card deck is stacked in favor of humanity. By doing this, we can avoid some of the worst impacts of global warming.

Now it is up to you and me to participate in the federal budget debate and tell our elected officials that we want dirty energy subsidies to go. When they tell you it will affect jobs and the economy, you’ll know that’s not true. When they propose cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and education to address the rising deficit, tell them to start with the dirty energy industry’s benefits programs, not yours and mine. Tell them to stack the deck for humanity, not the dirty energy industry.