Last week, President Obama called upon Americans to push Congress to end fossil fuel subsidies. This announcement has the potential to be a merely symbolic moment, a simple election-year scheme designed to appease environmentalists and budget hawks. However, it also has the potential to become a powerful victory for our country should we choose to answer our president’s call to action and make his words reality.
From any position on political spectrum, ending fossil fuel subsidies should be a policy to support. Most people would argue that subsidies can be smart investments—assuming that they support industries which work in the public interest through the products they supply or jobs they provide. However, fossil fuel subsidies are a waste of money. Why should an average American give his or her money to an industry which already makes record profits year after year? Beyond being a senseless fiscal decision, subsidising fossil fuels is dangerous. Every year, 24,000 Americans die because of toxic pollution from fossil fuel powerplants. By subsidizing fossil fuels, we pay to harm our own families. Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to climate change, which has health, agricultural, economic, and ecological consequences around the world. It is outrageous that the federal government wastes around $10 billion each year subsidizing a harmful industry already bloated with profits.
It is particularly frustrating that our government is giving money to already-profitable corporations at a time when there are many other pressing issues crying for financial support. Those billions of dollars given to fossil fuel corporations could be used to help pay off our national debt. They could provide tax relief to struggling American families. The money could be used to upgrade our public transport systems, like the seriously-troubled MBTA, which would have the additional benefit of reducing dependence on automobiles. Or it could be invested in shovel-ready renewable energy projects which would create thousands of jobs, like Cape Wind or clean-tech infrastructure. There are many productive uses for those billions of dollars—but supporting dangerous energy corporations which already earn record profits is not one of them.
Critics may argue that fossil fuel subsidies are necessary to protect consumers from high gas prices. However, this is false reasoning—oil prices are not a simple issue of supply and demand. According to the Energy Information Administration, supply is higher than it was three years ago, when gas cost $1.90. An oil boom in North Dakota is expected to push US crude output this year to its highest level since 1999—and yet the price of gas is expected to hit the roof. These rocketing prices come, in fact, from Wall Street trading of gasoline futures contracts, which are basicallly bets on where gas prices are going to be. Elimintating fossil fuel subsidies will not affect the real forces which drive the prices at the pump.
Some may argue that if we eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, we should also cut back on renewable subsidies in the interests of fairness. This is false logic. Firstly, there is a belief that taxpayer money can and should be spent on initiatives that work in the taxpayer’s interest—clean and safe renewable energy is in the public interest and worth taxpayer support through subsidies. Secondly, subsidies on fossil fuels do not serve to level the playing field, so removing them would only help to lessen the distortion. Fossil fuels have the tremendous advantage of externalizing immense costs of production to the public, which makes them appear cheaper than they really are. If fossil fuel corporations actually paid for the healthcare bills and economic losses which result from their pollution, fossil fuel energy would be far more expensive than clean and safe renewable energy. It is also worth noting that fossil fuel subsidies today are far greater than renewable energy subsidies—between 2002 and 2008, the government gave $72 billion to the fossil fuel industry compared to just $29 billion for renewable energy investments.
Now is the time to step up and answer our president’s call to stop supporting a dangerous industry. Do you have two minutes of free time today? Call your representatives and your senators, and ask them to take action in the next two weeks to remove fossil fuel subsidies from the 2013 budget.
This is our country, and it is our duty to see that our money is spent wisely. We must stand up for a safe, healthy future. Will you make that phone call?
Chloe S. Maxmin ‘15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall. Alli J. Welton ‘15 lives in Greenough Hall. Canyon S. Woodward ‘15 lives in Holworthy Hall.