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Responsible Debt Reduction Should Start With Cuts to Wasteful Subsidies

Frances Beinecke

Posted August 2, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Moving Beyond Oil, U.S. Law and Policy

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After watching Washington flirt with the dizzying prospect of national default, we're as relieved as Americans everywhere to have averted that disaster.

As the dust from the budgeting brinksmanship settles, though, we're keeping a close eye on the details behind the projected $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over the coming decade.

We need to get our fiscal house in order. That's a national imperative that will require national sacrifice.

There is a difference, though, between responsible deficit reduction and an unbridled assault on needed health and environmental safeguards.

We can't help balance the budget through disproportionate cuts in the critical pollution control, clean energy and public lands programs that together make up less than 1.2 percent of federal spending and yet provide manifest benefits to Americans everywhere.

Some House Republicans have given us cause for worry this summer, unleashing an environmental broadside through bills that would undermine foundational protections like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, as well as dozens of harmful policy riders attached to larger spending bills.

Debt reduction is too important to get sidetracked by a conservative agenda to undo a generation of environmental progress.   

Instead, the place to start balancing the public ledger is by ending billions of dollars a year in wasteful incentives for mature industries like fossil fuels, nuclear power and natural resource extraction. 

Whether those incentives come from tax loopholes or direct payments, we need to put an end to them in the name of responsible deficit reduction.

There's real money at stake. The oil and gas industry alone is set to receive some $46 billion in subsidies over the coming decade, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Just this week, the big five oil companies - ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Shell - announced second-quarter profits totaling $35.1 billion, up 9 percent from just a year ago. ExxonMobil, alone, earned $10.7 billion for the three-month period, bringing its profits for the first six months of this year to a staggering $21.3 billion. 

Now, we're all for profits. We want every company in America to make money. 

But let's be clear. At a time when more than 14 million Americans can't find work, and millions more are struggling to hang on to jobs, homes and health care, American taxpayers shouldn't be forced to choke up one thin dime to fatten the profits of oil companies.

Those subsidies should be ended today and every penny put directly toward deficit reduction.

We can save billions of dollars more each year by ending wasteful subsidies for ethanol production, natural resource extraction industries like coal and timber, and nuclear power.

Instead of subsidizing industries that anchor us in the past, we should be investing in the kinds of clean energy solutions that prepare us for the future.

That includes building the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces. It includes wind, solar and other renewable forms of energy. And it includes building high-speed rail and sustainable communities that will put Americans back to work today while laying the groundwork for a healthier economy tomorrow.

Just like families everywhere, our federal government needs to balance its checkbook. We all have to do our part.

As we look at ways to manage our spending going forward, let's do so with an eye toward ensuring the integrity of the safeguards we depend on to protect our air, water, lands and health. And let's preserve, while we're at it, the investments we need to ensure economic health and sound fiscal policy, not just for now, but far into the future.

 

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Comments

Sheila RichardAug 3 2011 09:40 PM

It's down right unpatriotic for companies registering billions of dollars profit each quarter to accept subsides in these diffficult times in particular. In addition to the subsides some are paying no or very little taxes as well. Despicable!!!!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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