This week, Congress will return to its annual budget debate. The budget process should be about responsible fiscal management and making choices regarding how best to use taxpayer dollars to support public priorities.
What we’ve seen so far leaves serious doubt whether Republican Leadership will follow that principle. Instead—as I wrote here—it looks likely that Congressional leaders will convert the budget process into yet another delivery mechanism for handouts to the wealthiest corporations at the expense of the public.
Case in point, the Senate congressional committee that oversees how our National Parks, National Monuments, federal oceans, and other lands are managed will likely be directed to look for a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money from one perspective, but in a multi-trillion-dollar budget, it’s a drop in the bucket.
So how will Senate leadership go about identifying that drop? The proposal on the table right now is to sell off some of our nation’s most precious, and unique landscapes, including opening the door to more taxpayer subsidized offshore drilling in our publicly-owned oceans.
Yet the entire question is based on a false premise. There is simply no need to raze our national treasures other than to pile on another corporate handout to an industry that is already enormously wealthy, but rakes in billions of tax giveaways each year.
To help Senate leaders with the math, here are 3 simple alternative ways to raise a billion dollars without harming the well-being of businesses, communities, and residents that depend on healthy oceans and landscapes.
- End the at least $8 billion in annual giveaways to the fossil fuel industry. Some of these tax loopholes have been on the books for over a hundred years. Begun when oil was a novel form of energy, these provisions have at minimum run their course. Providing “incentives” to private oil companies to make profits is like bribing a child to eat a cupcake—it’s not necessary and a total waste.
- Increase current grazing fees on public lands, which are estimated to be an average of 93 percent below private grazing fees.
- Redirect the estimated $1 billion in windfall profits President Trump would personally reap from his proposed tax reform plan.
In contrast, pushing through expanded offshore drilling in our vibrant, commonly-held oceans is both speculative and carries grave risk to existing economies, health, and our natural environment. Congress should keep these facts front and center.
Half of all new drilling is dependent on subsidies. For the other half of projects, those subsidies directly translate to oil industry profit.
Sinking drill rigs and new pipelines in places like the Atlantic and Arctic are high-cost, high-risk propositions, not slam dunk deals. That is why notable investors have labeled projects like new Arctic ocean drilling “vanity projects.”
Oil drilling means oil spilling. Analysis shows an estimated 30,000 oil spills per year in U.S. waters, most of which are in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil spills cause large, lasting harm to coastal businesses and economies. For example, the 2012 BP Deep Water Horizon spill caused roughly $700 million recreational use damages and cost the commercial fishing industry nearly $250 million.
The wave of bipartisan opposition to expanded offshore drilling continues to grow.
The majority of the public opposes using the budget to lease more federal ocean waters to private companies.
Based on these facts, the choice should be clear. Backdoor budget deals that sell-off our nation’s federal lands and waters to private oil companies are not in the national interest. There are far safer sources of energy that don’t put existing economies and natural resources at risk. The nation needs healthy oceans and renewable energy like solar and wind that creates jobs, not more oil industry handouts.