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Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress: The "'repeal all subsidies' argument is a political distraction from the real issue"

3 min. read

As he frequently does, Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress hits the nail on the head with his recent article, "Why The ‘Get Rid Of All Energy Subsidies’ Argument Is A Political Distraction." We strongly recommend that you read the entire piece carefully, but for now, here are a few key points.

  • "Whether or not [Mitt] Romney and [Rep. Fred] Upton are being sincere or just saying what may get them elected, they’ve added their prominent voices to a chorus of Republicans and conservative free-marketeers who want to see an end to all federal support for energy — mostly clean energy."
  • "While a realistic conversation around how, how much, and how long to incentivize certain energy sources is absolutely necessary, it’s important that clean energy advocates not get pulled in to the question of if the government should lend its support to emerging industries."
  • "As we’ve covered over and over, it’s preposterous to claim that the free market delivered us the energy system we have today. We’ve enjoyed cheap fossil fuels in part because of government’s attempts to bring the industry to scale."
  • "But now that the clean energy industry is asking for many of the same incentives in order to compete against an incumbent industry, hypocritical politicians call it “picking winners and losers.”"
  • "It’s important to remember why we’re putting federal and state support behind clean energy in the first place. We have to limit our use of fossil fuels within a pretty compressed time frame in order to transition to a low-carbon future and avoid irreversible climate change. Period."
  • "...the 'repeal all subsidies' argument is a political distraction from the real issue. We need to move away from fossil fuels, and we need to do so quickly — and that means continuing support for renewables and efficiency."

As we mentioned at the outset, this is an absolutely spot-on accurate description of what's going on with regard to the current debate over U.S. energy policy. Along these same lines, we'd also refer you to Kate Gordon's classic demolition of dirty energy apologists' talking points about "government picking winners and losers" (as if the government hasn't done that for decades, selecting fossil fuels as the "winners"), the evils of subsidies (as if oil, coal, and natural gas have not received enormous explicit and implicit taxpayer-funded subsidies over the past century, and continue to do so), etc.

Finally, just to give you a sense of how massive the subsidies and market distortions favoring fossil fuels have  been, we'd recommend you read our interview with Professor Michael Hendryx of West Virginia University, who found that mountaintop removal mining’s economic cost to Appalachian communities totaled roughly $42 billion per year in lost health and lives, and that the full “lifecycle cost” of coal to the U.S. public is actually upwards of $500 billion a year. And that's just coal. Add in oil and natural gas, and you start to get a feel for how massive the support has been for dirty energy, and how relatively infinitesimal it's been to clean energy.  Somehow, those priorities don't seem quite right to us. How about you?