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Senate Failure to Pass Comprehensive Energy Measure, Repeal Oil Industry Subsidies Is Letdown for Country

Dec. 13, 2007

Senate Failure to Pass Comprehensive Energy Measure, Repeal Oil Industry Subsidies Is Letdown for Country

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

The extent to which the oil and fossil fuel industries hold sway over the U.S. Senate was evident again today, as Senate lawmakers were unable to muster enough support to bring a much-needed energy package to a vote.

The reason? The bill would have repealed $12.5 billion in subsidies for the oil industry and shifted that money into renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Apparently, lawmakers didn’t want to bite the oil industry hand that feeds them. The 40 senators who voted against advancing the bill have accepted $7 million in campaign contributions from oil companies, PACs and executives since 2001.

It’s not as if the oil industry really needs $12.5 billion in taxpayer help. Since 2005, the largest five oil companies in the U.S. – ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Shell – have posted $315 billion in profits. In addition, they have spent $140 billion buying back their stock and are sitting on $57 billion in cash. Clearly, they do not need the billions in subsidies that were first given to the industry in 2004 and 2005.

Now, the energy bill will be stripped down further. Instead of passing three key elements – a repeal of oil industry subsidies, a requirement that utilities produce or procure 15 percent of their power needs from renewable energy sources by 2020 (the Senate rejected that last Friday) and a long-delayed fuel economy standard, the only thing likely to pass will be the fuel economy provision, a requirement that cars and light trucks overall – but not company by company – average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

What a letdown for the country. We are left with a minimal fuel economy standard in a watered down bill. We appreciate that lawmakers are finally boosting fuel economy standards, and we by no means want to minimize how critical this provision is, but so much more is needed. It is incomprehensible that with gas prices at near-record levels and so many people demanding solutions to the country’s urgent energy needs, lawmakers are stymied by the oil industry’s wealth.