Who Likes Subsidies for Big Oil?

A round-up of recent polling on tax breaks for oil companies.
This post is part of the research project: Word on the Street

Who likes subsidies for Big Oil? Well, Big Oil, for one. They really like the billions of dollars they get in tax breaks. Then there’s the Republican caucus’s three votes this year to protect those loopholes. But that’s about it. Nobody else likes them much at all, including Republican voters.

Center for American Progress pulled together some recent polling numbers. And we’ve piled more on:

  • 66 percent: The proportion of Americans who say gas prices are taking a toll on their personal finances, according to a recent CNN poll. (In the same poll, 61% said oil companies deserve “a great deal of blame” for rising costs, compared to just 25% who said the same about Obama’s energy policy.)
  • 74 percent: The proportion of Americans who favor “eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industry,” according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.
  • 2-to-1: The margin by which “Republican voters support ending subsidies” for oil companies.

Here’s more from the same recent poll by Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research:

  • 80 percent of voters believe that “oil companies trying to increase their own profits” are to blame for rising gas prices, with 51 percent saying they deserve a “great deal” of blame—the highest of 10 possible reasons for rising gas prices that were tested.
  • A 73 percent majority supported eliminating the giveaways, with 57 percent strongly supporting this.

In fact, the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner authors go so far as to say that “subsidies for oil companies make voters furious.” They size up the political ramifications of these public attitudes this way:

Despite their “all of the above” rhetoric in support of developing all forms of energy, Republicans will very likely continue to be vulnerable on this issue because of their documented record of support for Big Oil. This is standing in the way of alternative energy while helping their oil industry allies make huge profits at taxpayers’ expense.

Will lawmakers from both parties rue the day they supported Big Oil giveaways? Maybe so. As GQR associates Drew Liberman and Andrew Baumannwrite at Politico, “when presented with the message (being used by Democrats) critiquing Republicans for voting to protect these subsidies and oil companies for ‘taking advantage of Americans who are paying for their gas twice, each time they fill up their tank at the pump and then again on tax day,’ it resonates strongly”—with 67 percent of voters agreeing with the critique and 55 percent strongly agreeing. This is the highest of any message tested on either side.

I blogged earlier this week about Blue-state and Red-state support for alternative energy. The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner research reinforces that and goes a step further. Their survey found very strong continued support for proposals that:

  • End giveaways to oil companies. Eliminate the $5 billion in subsidies for oil companies each year.
  • Invest in alternative energy. Require oil companies to contribute one cent out of every dollar in profits to return to taxpayers and invest in alternative energies.
  • End speculation. Prohibit Wall Street speculators from artificially increasing oil prices.
  • Boost clean and efficient cars and fuels. Increase mileage standards for cars to 60 mpg over the next 15 years.

And, apparently even if Big Oil likes the subsidies—and why wouldn’t they?–they have admitted in the past that they don’t need them! As Fox News reported, the hearing for a bill introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to repeal the tax breaks granted to the five biggest oil companies, was opened by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon who played a video of a 2005 congressional hearing in which “oil company executives said they didn’t need generous tax breaks because oil was then selling at $55 a barrel. As the hearing commenced, the price per barrel hovered just below $100.” (They are singing a very different tune now. And if you want to hear their voices, go here.)

It’s no wonder that somebut not all–lawmakers have been less than frank about their votes to protect those subsidies. ABC reports that “as Democrats press to eliminate tax breaks and subsidies for big oil and gas companies, a growing number of Republicans are voicing agreement — on the condition that they also eliminate subsidies a far broader range of corporate interests, including ethanol, agriculture, and renewable energy.”

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  1. Reena Meijer Drees says:

    For further reading check out:http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2011/05/02/getting-even-with-exxonmobil/Robert Rapier is a very well-respected energy blogger, who writes for the OilDrum (an excellent site for oil depletion information).

  2. B-Green says:

    I would support the removal of all the subsidies mentioned above, even renewable energy, if competing products had to pay full cost of production/consumption so all products would be on even ground. For example, I would support removing subsidies on renewable energy if carbon based fuels paid the externality/pollution costs associated with their production/consumption. This of course is asking a lot, but there are some great policies headed that direction. One example being the revenue-neutral carbon tax in British Columbia.

  3. civiletti says:

    “Who Likes Subsidies for Big Oil?”Obvious, of course: big oil and those sponsored by big oil, whether through lobbying money or campaign money.Leveling the playing field by eliminating all energy subsidies would be suicidal. Sustainable energy tech and infrastructure must be developed *before* it is cost-competitive, for reasons most of us understand. Continuing subsidies for fossil fuel are suicidal for the same reasons.

  4. DB says:

    I think its disingenuous to phrase a poll of who is to ‘blame’ for high oil prices. Oil prices are set through supply and demand (with some markup if the industry is dominated by a few firms). Subsidies probably lower prices, but the issue is that they distort the market and insulate consumers from the true cost of oil. We should get rid of subsidies and tax oil due to externalities and let consumers make their decisions based on the correct (and much higher) price.

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