Post image for Obama’s Green Albatross

Stimulus spending on environmentalist policy is a green albatross around the neck of President Barack Obama. Inspectors General are having a field day auditing stimulus-funded programs for so-called “green jobs,” and the media LOVES stories about wasted taxpayer money. What started as a sop to his environmentalist base, now threatens to become a slow-drip nightmare of negative press. The timing couldn’t be worse for the President. It takes time to disburse scores of billions of dollars, so we are only now starting to scrutinize stimulus spending. By November 2012, we’ll be able to account for most of the money, and unless the current trend changes radically, the Executive in Chief is going to look conspicuously incompetent.

Here’s the back-story: In early 2009, the Executive and Legislative branches of government had a popular mandate to defibrillate America’s moribund economy with a huge injection of taxpayer dollars. Instead of limiting this “stimulus” to state bailouts and infrastructure spending, the Obama administration (led by climate “czar” and former EPA administrator Carol Browner) and the Congressional majority (led by House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills)) also sought to advance environmentalist policy.  As a result, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the stimulus, included almost $70 billion in spending for green jobs and renewable energy infrastructure.

Every single link along the green energy supply chain was showered with subsidies. There was funding for green jobs training, funding for factories to make green products, and funding to incentivize demand for green goods and services. It was as like a green Gosplan!

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Post image for Ethanol Tax Credit More Likely to Expire

The ethanol compromise did not make it into any debt ceiling negotiations and its future is now looking bleaker than ever before. The Congressional ‘super-committee’ established by the debt ceiling negotiations will have to decide by November 23rd some manner to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion or face potentially unpopular automatic spending cuts to defense and discretionary spending (though USA Today writes that these “threats” have failed in the past). None of the rumored super-committee members seem to be from regions that would require their support of the ethanol industry

The ‘ethanol compromise’ had legs because it funneled money into the domestic ethanol industry while still maintaining a facade of deficit reduction. It would have collected $2 billion in revenue from the ending of the domestic tax credit as of July 21 and used a small amount less than that to spend on items near and dear to the ethanol industry (mainly ongoing support for cellulosic ethanol and money for the installation of blender pumps at fueling stations), hence their support.

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Post image for The Future of Ethanol Policy

As was widely reported, the Senate voted last week on a bill that would terminate the ethanol tax credit and corresponding tariff. While many were excited by the prospect of finally moving towards better energy policy, it seems likely that things will still get worse before they get better. The ethanol industry does not seem worried.

Consider the following: John McCain (R-AZ) offered additional legislation, while the Senate was voting down the tax credit, that would have ended federal subsidies for ethanol fuel pumps at gas stations. This was voted down 41-59:

“It lost because of the influence of the ethanol lobby,” McCain said on Fox News Thursday, alleging ethanol “is probably the greatest rip-off that I’ve seen since P.T. Barnum.

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Post image for Why Democrats Blame “Speculators” and “Subsidies” for High Gas Prices

With gas prices hovering near $4/gallon, Democrats are trotting out fanciful “solutions” to temper the price of oil.

On Saturday, President rolled out a three-part plan to relieve Americans’ pain at the pump. The third part was the elimination of Big Oil “subsidies” (in fact, they are tax breaks, not subsidies). This doesn’t make any sense. The point of the tax breaks to Big Oil is to decrease the cost of production. That is, they make oil cheaper to extract. Removing these “subsidies” will in no way decrease the price of gas.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are blaming evil “speculators” for bidding up the price of oil. This is utter malarkey. The price of oil is dictated by a global market.  Ill-defined “speculators” are a straw man.

Removing Big Oil’s “subsidies” and prosecuting “speculators” are empty political gimmicks of the sort that the 2008 version of Obama campaigned against. (So much for “Change,” right?) I suspect that the President and Senate Democrats are relying on these bogus non-solutions because, otherwise, they’d have to acknowledge that the price of oil is a function of supply and demand. And if they concede that the market, and not “subsidies” or “speculators,” is to blame for high oil prices, then they’d also have to acknowledge that increasing supply would decrease the price. That is, they’d have to admit that “drill, baby, drill” works. Of course, they don’t want to do that, because doing so would upset their environmentalist base.

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Post image for Cutting “Subsidies” to Big Oil Is Political Sleight of Hand

Between the time this is written and the time you read it, gas prices will have undoubtedly risen again.  They have been on an upward spiral for months and not likely to drop long term without some bold, decisive action as was taken on July 14, 2008. Instead of encouraging the development of our own natural resources, politicians of both parties  are once again betting that we will not notice if they play the antibusiness card—but 2011 is not a year for politics as usual and the rules have changed. This is no longer a back-room game. It is the poker channel. People are watching.

With their cards close to the vest, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are bluffing. They want America’s citizens to believe their hand is filled with spending cuts—cut subsidies from big oil companies. Somehow we are supposed to think this will lower gas prices?

Part of their bluff is to use the term “subsidy”—which in the house-of-cards economy/debt crisis they’ve built translates to spending. Concerned Americans do not want more spending, they want cuts. We’ve anted up all we can. Politicians are betting we’ll fall for the deception.

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Post image for The T. Boone Pickens Earmark Bill

Republicans in the House of Representatives are flocking to support a bill to extend and create a number of taxpayer-funded subsidies for manufacturers and buyers of vehicles powered by natural gas.   Nearly eighty House Republicans (and a hundred Democrats) have signed up as sponsors of H. R. 1380, the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (or NAT GAS Act).  Just call it the T. Boone Pickens Earmark Bill.

Many conservative Republicans in the House, particularly a number of new Members with Tea Party connections, have sworn that the fiscal and economic crisis confronting America requires a radical change in federal policies.  Out-of-control spending must be stopped; spending earmarks must be abolished; crony capitalists on the prowl for corporate welfare must be sent packing; subsidies for special interests must be abolished; government must stop interfering in the economy and let free markets work.

That big talk doesn’t seem to apply when the spending is being earmarked for a crony capitalist who is one of the biggest contributors to Republican candidates in history–billionaire T. Boone Pickens.  Apparently, some subsidies are good if they benefit the right special interests.  And government interference in the economy is wonderful if it is done in the name of reducing oil imports.

H. R. 1380 would extend the tax credit of 50 cents per gallon of liquid natural gas (or its equivalent of compressed natural gas) when used for fueling vehicles and provide purchasers of natural gas vehicles with credits ranging from $7,500 to $64,000.  The lower end is for passenger cars and the upper end for big trucks.  There are also credits for natural gas vehicle manufacturers and for installing natural gas fueling stations.

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Post image for An Overview of Oil Industry and Subsidies

Here is an excellent overview (by Robert Rapier) of taxes and the oil industry. The basic takeaways are that a simpler tax code is much preferable to what we have now, that ending these deductions without reforming the tax code will be damaging, and the oil industry’s profit margins are actually lower than many other industries. The whole thing is worth reading, but below are a few excerpts.

The biggest ‘oil company subsidy’ — amounting to $1.7 billion per year for the oil industry — is a manufacturer’s tax deduction that is explained in Section 199 of the IRS code. This is a tax credit designed to keep manufacturing in the U.S., but it isn’t limited to oil companies. It is a tax credit enjoyed by ethanol companies (have you ever heard anyone call it an ethanol subsidy?), computer companies (we are subsidizing Microsoft and Google!) and foreign companies who operate factories in the U.S.

One never hears of proposals to entirely do away with Section 199. Apparently, since this tax credit was designed as an incentive to keep manufacturing in the U.S., many would feel that eliminating it for all companies would provide less incentive for them to keep their factories in the U.S. Some of the same people apparently don’t believe this reasoning will apply with the oil industry.

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Post image for The President’s Wacky Oil Plan, Part 2

I’ve written before about Obama’s tortuous logic when it comes to rising gas prices, and, this week, he again laid out “solutions” that don’t make any sense. Consider,

  • Yesterday, the President implored Saudi Arabia to produce more oil. That is, he told the Saudis to “drill, baby, drill.” He did the same thing a month ago in Brazil. Meanwhile, U.S. production remains stunted by the Obama administration’s de facto moratorium on new oil and gas leases and permits. Why is “drill, baby, drill” appropriate for Saudi Arabia and Brazil, but not for the U.S.?
  • Last Saturday, the President called for an end to tax breaks for the oil industry. He said, “They’re making record profits and you’re paying near record prices at the pump. It has to stop.” So, the President wants to end oil “subsidies” in order to relieve Americans pain at the pump. This doesn’t make any sense, because the effect of oil industry “subsidies” is to lower the price of oil. It’s a market distortion meant to lower the cost of producing oil. By removing these “subsidies,” the price of oil would better reflect the forces of supply and demand, and it would increase.
    [N.B. To an extent, I agree with the President on this one—loopholes in the tax code are a form of corporate welfare that should be stopped. That said, these tax breaks aren’t unique to the oil industry, and singling it out only makes the tax code more complicated. A better way, as articulated by Rep. Paul Ryan, is eliminate ALL corporate welfare.]
  • The President wants to take away oil industry “subsidies,” and turn them into green energy giveaways, because, he says, this will “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” For starters, it’s unclear how investments in unreliable, expensive electricity produced by wind and solar would “reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” Moreover, in the past, Obama’s has dismissed “drill, baby, drill” on the grounds that it would take years to impact the global oil market. The President claims that expanded oil production would take too long to have an effect on the price of gas, but that increased taxpayer handouts to wind and solar would somehow “reduce our dependence on foreign oil” in a more reasonable time frame.  This is nonsensical.
Post image for Ethanol Industry Continues to Deflect Blame on Food Prices

Instead, they blame those darned speculators (are they aware of the important role played by commodity markets?) again. The industry continues to find support in high places:

Speaking to farmers earlier this month, the Obama administration’s agriculture secretary said he found arguments from the like of Nestlé “irritating”. Mr Vilsack said: “The folks advancing this argument either do not understand or do not accept the notion that our farmers are as productive and smart and innovative and creative enough to meet the needs of food and fuel and feed and export.”

Well, the price of corn has almost doubled in the last 6 months. Now, its obviously unfair to blame this entirely on biofuels. Food crops are heavily dependent on a number of other important factors like the price of oil, the weather, crop yields, etc. However, with 35% of U.S. corn being turned into biofuels, it clearly has a major effect on the price, driving it upwards (and driving other commodities higher as well, as farmland becomes more scarce). Globally, U.S. exports provide about 60% of total corn supply.

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Post image for The DOE’s Awful Green Bank

My CEI colleague Chris Horner and I have a piece in today’s Daily Caller, on the Department of Energy’s awful green bank.

This excerpt aptly summarizes out take:

The point of a green investment bank is ostensibly to facilitate the commercialization of new, dormant or otherwise commercially unsuccessful technologies by providing easier financing than is available in the real world, where people scrutinize where they invest their money. It turns bureaucrats into bankers, but with your money, and no real-world incentives to “invest,” as the word connotes and denotes.

Critics argue that these bureaucrats are picking winners and losers. If only. In fact, they just pick from losers.

I especially like that last line, about how the green energy industry is a loser. As Chris and I have explained elsewhere, any industry, like green energy, that owes its creation to government handouts is fundamentally uncompetitive, and, therefore, will always be on the taxpayer dole.

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