Not everyone is aware that prices of a variety of products are artificially lowered by government subsidies. However, these subsidies help preserve some institutions that quite a few people are opposed to (or at least concerned about). Two of the most egregious beneficiaries are the industrial farming and fossil fuel industries.
While energy subsidies have been among the central green talking points for a while, I wasn’t aware just how big of an impact they could make — until I saw this infographic from One Block Off the Grid.
A few notes:
- As one commenter on 1BOG points out, Germany does not just subsidize clean energy. Much of their success in solar is due to a feed-in tariff. When discussing clean energy, maybe support would be a more accurate term than subsidize.
- The data for this chart is pre-stimulus. In the U.S., government support for solar and other forms of clean energy has increased over the last two of years.
- The details are, of course, too complicated to be explained in an effective chart. I would say to take this graphic as an illustration (albeit an important and brilliant one), understanding that direct subsidization is not the only way to compare energy support.
Even considering these points, the fact still remains that American taxpayers are funding an industry that includes some of the world’s wealthiest corporations, most of which should be old enough to fend for themselves. Greens and progressives aside, I would think that voters who are uncomfortable with state-controlled economics in general would object to the government essentially choosing what kind of energy consumers can afford. Even if this country refuses to recognize the benefits of funding clean energy (in one way or another), surely there is an argument for, at least, leveling the playing field.
On Friday the Senate voted on the Murkowski resolution, known in environmental circles as the “Dirty Air Act.” The proposal failed by six votes, despite the support of all Repubicans and six Democrats.
For a while, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has been pushing this resolution to veto the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health. The endangerment finding allows the EPA to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act, so Murkowski’s amendment would have blocked new fuel economy and pollution standards for vehicles. According to Lisa Jackson, the proposal would have increased our dependence on oil by 455 million barrels.
That such an idea would be considered while the latest oil-related disaster devastates the Gulf, is ironic, to say the least. But I would hesitate to declare the Senate’s decision a triumph for the clean energy movement. The Murkowski resolution was, essentially, an effort by Congress to overturn scientific findings — and it came only six votes short of passing the Senate.
Nevertheless, the Dirty Air Act had little chance of passing the House, and Obama had threatened to veto it. So the Senate votes were mostly symbolic. Although some Senators who supported the amendment might back a climate bill, their choice to side with Big Oil here should not go unnoticed.
In a totally unrelated story, Lisa Murkowski is the Senate’s third largest recipient of oil money, with $209,826 from the industry in 2010. She’s also accepted more than $172,000 from coal interests.
Senators Boxer and Kerry have introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, a bill for energy reform and GHG reduction. It looks to be stronger than Waxman-Markey. My biggest complaint so far is the length of the title. Here are some quick facts.
- The target for GHG pollution reduction has been strengthened to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020, 80% by 2050 (the House bill aimed for a 17% reduction by 2020).
- The EPA is allowed to regulate coal plants.
- A share of revenues is guaranteed for green transportation.
- Support for CCS, natural gas, and nuclear energy is included.
Here is some info on the Pollution Reduction and Investment mechanism (basically a regulated carbon market):
- PRI is designed to let the private sector seek out the most cost‐effective ways to meet our pollution reduction goals. Major polluters will be required to turn in one “carbon credit,” essentially a voucher for the right to pollute one ton of carbon.
- These vouchers can be bought or sold, giving companies flexibility in how they reduce pollution. Those that can’t quickly or affordably do so can buy vouchers instead. Other companies better able to cut pollution can sell their vouchers to those who need them. Either way, PRI makes it profitable to reduce pollution by creating an important new incentive.
- The number of vouchers will be reduced every year.
- PRI targets businesses that emit more than 25,000 tons of CO2 annually – 2% of American businesses. So small businesses and farmers are not regulated. However, farmers that reduce their carbon footprint can be awarded carbon vouchers to sell to companies.
- PRI also offers additional support to energy‐intensive and trade‐exposed industries, like the chemicals industry, so that no advantage is given to companies that simply relocate their pollution overseas.
- Low- to moderate-income families receive rebates on their energy bills.
I may update this post later with more details. If you want all the info now, Kerry’s web site has a summary and the full 800 pages, which contain all the legislative jargon you could ask for.