Are Republicans the Party of Big Oil?

In February the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Renewable Energy and Energy Tax Act of 2008. This Act would eliminate $18 billion in tax breaks for big oil companies to help pay for extending renewable energy tax credits. Now we’ll see if Senate Republicans can vote for good energy and environmental policy – or just vote for Big Oil again.

We’ve been through this before. Last December Senate Republicans voted along party lines – at the urging of the White House – to defeat a similar bill. This year, Republican opposition to this bill and favoritism to Big Oil is becoming a theme of the presidential campaign.

The result is that solar power and other forms of renewable energy have become politicized – to the detriment of everyone who uses electricity and cares about the environment. Fortunately, it looks like the next new thing is clean tech: silicon for solar cells as well as chips. But there’s a cloud on the horizon – and that is the Federal Government’s apparent hostility to any industry that has the potential to impede Big Oil. We’ve seen this with absurdly lame CAFÉ standards, the EPA’s refusal to allow California to regulate their own emissions, and outright obstruction of the Kyoto Protocol’s efforts.

The Spicy Solar Guy has been a registered Republican for over 20 years. This year I find it impossible to support a party that bends to the wishes of Big Oil. Their excuse is that the White House does not want to reduce incentives for finding new sources of oil and gas. We’ve obviously got an energy shortage – but let’s put these renewable energy incentives in perspective.

Renewable energy legislation that Republicans should pass moves $18 billion in tax incentives from Big Oil to the renewable energy industry over 10 years. In 2007 alone the profits of the Big Five oil companies were over $120 billion – if these profits continue at this pace they’d generate $1.2 trillion in profits over the same ten-year period.

Sound public policy is compromised when there is that much money at risk by incumbent industries. As a result, many people in the renewable energy industry are resigned to just waiting until the next President takes office for any substantive change in federal policy. But that delay will jeopardize thousands of Silicon Valley jobs, billions to our local economy, and puts us just that much farther behind compared to the rest of the world.

It’s an opportunity lost for the most transparent of reasons – Big Oil’s influence on our country’s energy and environmental policy. The impact is now being felt economically as higher energy prices create inflationary pressures. With $4/gallon gas and $110/barrel oil, our economy is going into a recession while our country writes ever bigger checks to foreign oil producers.

Big Oil does not need tax breaks while they’re earning record (some say windfall) profits. Senate and House Republicans need to wake up to the fact that their votes for big oil are embarrassing and politically suicidal. Our country’s energy policies are an economic and environmental dead end, and we cannot wait until next year to turn around. Let’s get an Energy Bill passed now that removes unnecessary support for Big Oil and accelerates the growth of clean, renewable power.