Friday, February 29, 2008

"Going After" the Oil Companies

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal reported that House and Senate Democrats were "going after" U.S. petroleum companies.

As early as today, the House of Representatives is expected to approve a measure that would eliminate roughly $18 billion in tax incentives for oil and gas companies, and use the savings to fund tax credits and other incentives for renewable energy.

It isn't expected to become law, but it is one of several recent attempts by Democrats to keep President Bush and Republicans on the defensive.The measure comes as high energy prices put increased pressure on consumers. ...

Senate Democrats also held a hearing yesterday to put new pressure on the administration to take a tougher line against the industry in a dispute over royalties for leases issued in the late 1990s. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Stephen Allred told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that as much as $31 billion is at stake in the dispute, which centers on leases issued to oil and gas companies for the right to drill in the Gulf of Mexico from 1996 to 2000.

The House bill, though facing an uncertain future in the Senate and an almost certain veto from President Bush, is pretty good. From another WSJ piece:

The House of Representatives voted to repeal $18 billion of tax breaks for oil and gas producers, and to use the savings to finance tax incentives for wind-power projects, solar panels and more energy-efficient cars. ...

Under the bill, Congress would extend through 2011 tax credits for newly built wind farms and other facilities that generate power from renewable sources such as landfills. The government estimates the cost at $6.6 billion over 10 years, making it the single most expensive tax break in the legislation. Congress would also extend, through 2016, the tax credit of 30% that companies may claim for investments in solar products and so-called fuel cells. Fuel cells convert fuel into electrical energy without any combustion, thereby minimizing pollution.

Consumers would gain new tax breaks for buying plug-in hybrid cars.

Oil and gas companies would lose some $13.6 billion in tax breaks granted in 2004 for domestically produced goods. Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC would lose the tax breaks entirely. The deduction would be frozen at 6% for smaller oil and gas companies. That deduction had been scheduled to jump to 9% in 2010.

Oil companies would also lose another $4.1 billion under provisions that provide less-favorable tax treatment for certain kinds of foreign income.

And how is the Senate "going after" the oil companies? Well, aside from the fact that very similar legislation failed BY ONE VOTE last year, Senator Feinstein is trying to get them to pay for petroleum they've already taken from public lands -- $31 billion worth:

A U.S. Interior Department official said today that the government may have a hard time collecting as much as $31 billion in royalty payments for leases issued in the late 1990s unless a court decision that rejected the government's right to the payments is reversed.

The warning from Assistant Secretary Stephen Allred came at a hearing aimed at keeping visibility on disputed royalty payments for deepwater drilling. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has been pressing oil companies to make the payments, and promised to try again with legislation that would ban oil companies from participating in sales of new leases unless they pay royalties on a set of leases issued in 1998 and 1999.

That's not even mentioning the $10 billion the oil companies are shorting the American taxpayer because they're still paying royalties for the oil they take from public lands at a rate of $36/barrel. It's all pretty unbelievable to me, but I'm glad that our Democratic Represenatives and Senators are trying to do something about the endless boondoggles and ripoffs the Bush administration and oil companies have colluded to perpetrate against the American taxpayer. Next question -- why aren't we hearing more about this from the Democratic presidential candidates?

I've got a theory on that, and I'll be posting about it next week.

In the meantime -- remember that one vote that prevented the legislation to redirect oil company tax breaks to renewable energy from passing in the Senate last year? Well it belonged to John McCain who didn't even bother to vote, choosing instead to kill the bill quietly and without getting his fingerprints on it.

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