Sen. Bernie Sanders rallies supporters of the End Polluter Welfare Act.

At a time when we have more than $15 trillion in national debt, American taxpayers are set to give away over $110 billion to the oil, gas, and coal industries over the next decade. Clearly, we cannot afford it. The five largest oil companies made over $1 trillion in profits in the last decade, with some paying no federal income taxes for part of that time, so they certainly do not need it.

It is time we end this corporate welfare in the form of massive subsidies and tax breaks [PDF] to hugely profitable fossil-fuel corporations. It is time for Congress to support the interests of the taxpayer instead of powerful special interests like the oil and coal industries. That is why I joined with Rep. Keith Ellison to introduce legislation in the Senate and the House called the End Polluter Welfare Act. Our proposal is backed by grassroots and public-interest organizations 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and many others.

It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America. It is equally obscene that as those members of Congress fight to continue never-ending fossil-fuel subsidies worth tens of billions, they are working overtime to deny a one-year extension for key sustainable energy incentives for the emerging wind and solar industries. Instead of passing strong legislation to help reverse global warming, Congress continues giveaways to the 200-year-old fossil-fuel industry even as that industry’s carbon pollution wreaks devastation on our planet. Enough is enough.

While there have been attempts to remove some of these fossil-fuel subsidies in the past, our legislation is the most comprehensive ever put together in that it would end all of the tax breaks, special financing arrangements, and federal research support for fossil fuels. Our bill would make sure the fossil-fuel industry pays its fair share by reforming royalties for drilling or mining on public lands or in federal waters. It would also end the loopholes that allow tar-sands pipeline operators to avoid paying the oil-spill cleanup tax.

It is important that the American people understand just how egregious these fossil-fuel handouts [PDF] are:

  • A tax deduction for an oil spill? We all remember the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. What is less well-known is that BP is claiming a $9.9 billion tax deduction on the money it had to spend cleaning up its own mess and paying for damages it caused. That is absurd.
  • They manufacture what? Coal and oil lobbyists added fossil fuels to a bill aimed at helping American manufacturers, so those industries too could claim “manufacturing” tax deductions. The added cost for taxpayers: $12 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Good enough for Big Oil, but not clean energy. Most of us have not heard about Master Limited Partnerships. These special financing arrangements allow oil and gas investors to avoid paying certain corporate income taxes, but they’re not available to clean energy businesses. Ending this fossil-fuel loophole would not only start to level the playing field for clean energy investment, but would save the government an estimated $2.4 billion over the next decade.
  • Free federal oil and gas leases? Fossil-fuel corporations are supposed to pay the government fair market royalties in exchange for the right to drill on public lands or in federal waters. But thanks to a loophole in federal law, some oil and gas corporations drilling in the Gulf of Mexico pay zero in royalties. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office estimated this could cost taxpayers up to $53 billion over the life of these loophole leases.

These are just a few examples of the obscene subsidies that the oil, gas, and coal industries reap from the government year after year. We know that with the enormous sums these industries spend on lobbying and campaign contributions — no doubt made worse by the new era of unlimited corporate campaign spending ushered in by Citizens United — passing a bill like our End Polluter Welfare Act will not be easy. But we know too that all across our country, and across the political spectrum, the American people are angry and frustrated with a government beholden to big-money interests. They want their elected officials to stand up for the needs of working families and our environment, not the powerful special interests.

While it is true that the fossil-fuel industry has a virtually unlimited supply of money and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., they still can be defeated. If the American people stand up and demand that the fossil-fuel industry and other corporations pay their fair share in taxes, we can defeat them. If the American people demand that we transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we can defeat them. With your help, we can defeat them. Join this fight by signing up to be a citizen cosponsor of this legislation.