Charles Rex Arbogast/ Associated Press

Climate change is destructive to the environment and must be dealt with promptly. We should start by immediately halting the vast amount of fossil fuel subsidies given by the federal government to the fossil fuel industry.

It is difficult to determine the exact amount of the subsidies. However, Oil Change International reports that the fossil fuel industry receives $37.5 billion per year in direct subsidies. These contribute to increased emissions of carbon dioxide. CO2 is the largest component of greenhouse gases and thus contributes greatly to climate change.

Several leading financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, have made it clear that subsidies encourage excessive energy consumption. The president of the World Bank stated: “Fossil fuel subsidies send out a terrible signal: Burn more carbon.” 

Exactly how much could fossil fuel usage be lowered if subsidies were eliminated? The International Monetary Fund projects that global CO2 emissions could be reduced by 20 percent if they were ended.

Since they profess to believe in the free market, the fossil fuel industry should not be given government handouts. More importantly, these corporations do not need financial help. Exxon's profits in 2011 were $41.1 billion. Between 2010-2012, Exxon paid a federal tax rate of 15 percent, resulting in a tax subsidy of $6.2 billion. Since fossil fuel companies are not paying their fair share of taxes, this tax reduction is an indirect subsidy.

The Koch brothers, advocates of free market capitalism, would like to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security and Medicare, and are opposed to government programs that aid the poor. Ironically, they receive subsidies themselves. This is especially disturbing since the Koch brothers have an extremely poor record when it comes to the environment. The EPA fined Koch Industries $30 million for its role in 300 oil spills, which resulted in more than 3 million gallons of crude oil leaking into surface water and poisoning our water.

Besides various subsidies, the fossil fuel industry receives other financial benefits from the government. The Department of the Interior regulates fossil fuel extraction on Native American tribal land, and the tribes do not receive a fair price for these resources. Another offensive subsidy occurs when the federal government gives polluting corporations leases for public lands and coastal waters without fair recompense. The government does not collect adequate compensation for the disasters that occur because of negligence, and this cost is absorbed by the tax-paying public.

To make a bad situation worse, oil companies claim costs associated with cleaning up after an oil spill as a standard business expense. Thus, they pay less in taxes and therefore make higher profits. Further support of oil companies occurs when the government permits pipelines on private property. One estimate is that 3 million gallons of oil are spilled annually from pipelines. The government also allows extremely toxic petroleum products to be haphazardly transported on railroads. The Department of Transportation predicts 10 oil train derailments annually.

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Last but not least, the amount of money that the Pentagon spends to obtain and defend overseas oil interests is another form of government subsidy. One low estimate is that the United States spends $10 billion annually doing this. The war in Iraq was ultimately a war for oil. General John Abizaid, former head of the Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, stated: “Of course it's about oil; we can't really deny that.” Sen. Chuck Hagel said in 2007: “People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”

Halliburton was one of the companies that wanted to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, and Vice President Dick Cheney was the former head of Halliburton. According to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the U.S. is entangled in Syria because Bashar al-Assad rejected a proposed oil pipeline through the country. Libya has a large amount of oil, and the government was involved in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. The amount of money that the government spent on these wars, an indirect subsidy to the oil industry, is in the trillions. Government policy protecting access to oil has led to thousands of Americans dying or being injured.

Given the plethora of negative consequences, I feel strongly that government aid in any form for the fossil fuel industry is a financial burden that Americans should not have to shoulder. It is time to eliminate subsidies from this industry that causes severe damage to us and our planet. Join and work with organizations such as Citizens' Climate Lobby or to replace the use of fossil fuels with less ecologically damaging sources of energy. A carbon fee and dividend program would partially reimburse the country for the cost of burning fossil fuels, as well as provide an incentive to reduce energy use and adopt more ecological sources of energy.

Lenore Hitchler, of Stevens Point, is a member of Citizens' Climate Lobby and This column reflects her own views.

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