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May 20, 2014

The Koch Brothers, Vampires, and You

Last week, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona took to the Senate floor to make the claim that the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a “zombie” provision that we should eradicate, arguing that would somehow bring purity to energy markets. The Koch Brothers’ front organization Americans for Prosperity echoed this theme in a release shortly thereafter. 

While the oil-rich Koch Brothers and their big polluting allies have funded and waged a war on what they say are zombies, they always fail to mention the vampires that roam their own halls at night --and only at night. 

Those vampires are the oil and gas tax breaks that have been in the tax code for decades upon decades, hiding under the cover of permanence, never having to stare into the light of day – or an expiration.  And they have been there for generations longer than the PTC (birthed just in 1992), biting into and sucking the fresh blood of taxpayer dollars, trying to make themselves appear young and robust.  Intangible drilling costs (circa 1913), percentage depletion allowances (1926), master limited partnerships and passive loss exemption (1986) -- the names of these oil and gas giveaways haunt with Transylvanian overtones.  And they rarely have to surface to face scrutiny or beg to be extended -- because they are written into the tax code in perpetuity!

I gather from Sen. Flake’s statement that the thing that makes the PTC a zombie is the fact that it keeps being extended.  The PTC was enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and it has been extended 8 times.  It has also expired 3 different times, in 2000, 2002, and 2004.  It expired again this past December 31.  He characterizes the wind industry as mature, and thus no longer requiring federal help. But wind energy is booming and growing across the country, meaning its still in its adolescence. At the end of 2013, more wind capacity was being manufactured than at any time in history.

On the other hand, the oil and gas industry would qualify for Medicare.  No -- They would be more like centuries old; like vampires!  Yet, there is no hue and cry from the Kochs and their allies that these cash producing, big polluting Count Draculas should somehow cease to wander the centuries delivering billions to the oil and gas industry. 

We recently all got the stiff one-two punch of the National Climate Assessment and the frightening news about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet being on a one-way ride to more than 10 feet of global sea level rise.  That means more communities, more families, and more businesess in the crosshairs of some of the worst effects of climate disruption.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers whose carbon emissions are helping fuel this crisis are fighting any and every effort necessary to address them, like the first-ever safeguards on carbon pollution. Its no surprise that the fossil fuel industry and its allies will do everything it can to protect its massive profits and pump out limitless pollution. And that means polluter allies in Congress will continue to target the PTC simply because they want to crush the wind industry in its youth – as it is beginning to finally offer real competition to the oil, gas, and coal industries. All the while, these same polluters are as silent as midnight in a graveyard about the vampire subsidies that have nurtured the fossil industries much more handsomely for much, much longer. 

--Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club


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