Shifting Our Taxpayer $$$ from Oil to Efficient Transportation and Technology

By now you have probably seen the interview with House Speaker Boehner on ABC about the need to look at tax policy towards oil companies at a time when "we need to have revenues to keep the government moving." If you haven't, check out this article from The Hill, which includes a link to it at the end.

It's worth a look, and I think it shows there's an opening for agreement on this issue, in spite of the pains the Speaker's office took to pull back from his words. The President and the House Democratic Leader certainly saw an opening, and consequently sent letters to the Speaker about it.

This policy change would be welcome, with a large majority of Americans supportive of removing the tax breaks, a former major oil company CEO agreeing, and oil company profit reports coming in at astronomical levels this week. Groups, such as Taxpayers for Common Sense, interested in eliminating wasteful government spending agree as well.

Let's just say, after years of debating whether or not this extremely mature and profitable industry can do without these tax breaks, that they are removed. Where should the resultant revenues be directed?

Deficit reduction is of course an attractive possibility, as the President's economic adviser Gene Sperling pointed out.

There are a few other possibilities, including vehicle electrification and infrastructure. On the former, there were companion House and Senate bills offered last year that would accelerate electrification of a growing percentage of vehicle miles traveled by focussing on deployment in a select group of metropolitan areas. The bills require substantial investment. There is also the infrastructure bank in the President's FY 2012 transportation budget proposal. That would require about $5 billion per year, which is just a bit more than the $4 billion for year the President claims would be freed up by eliminating oil company tax breaks.

And my colleague Brian Siu offered up some other worthy ideas on these pages recently.

In the end, there's poetic justice in devoting all or part of the revenue to development and/or deployment of transportation and technologies that reduce our oil dependence. Call me a dreamer, but I hope for a day when these companies truly become what they call themselves:  Energy, not just oil, companies. I imagine large, diversified companies offering a portfolio of clean and renewable (not just dirty and limited) fuel choices to businesses and consumers. Should that day come they might deserve support for innovative or not-yet-profitable ventures. Right now, though, they have a fossilized business model that is wildly profitable.

Time to take some of our hard earned dollars back from them, and make downpayments instead on a clean, efficient energy future for ourselves and our families.