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Articles by Michael A. Livermore

Michael A. Livermore is the executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law. He is the author, with Richard L. Revesz, of Retaking Rationality: How Cost-Benefit Analysis Can Better Protect the Environmental and Our Health.

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President Obama has made tax breaks for the oil industry an ongoing target. He recently reaffirmed his stance in his State of the Union address, saying that our nation has supported these companies for long enough. And as budget season begins next week, we’ll likely see the idea come up again in deliberations over where to cut.

But exactly how much companies like Shell and ExxonMobil receive is something of a mystery. Tucked into tomes of tax code, subsidies for fossil-fuel industries are often obscured. The IRS does not make public the amounts that companies save, and estimates range widely. One analysis found that about $72 billion went to oil, gas, and coal producers from 2002 to 2008. But we really don’t have a clear or complete picture of the actual total; it could easily be much higher.

Certainly the record profits posted by companies like Exxon suggest that their tax subsidies could be allocated more efficiently elsewhere. The first step in deciding on the appropriate level of tax breaks for these types of industries would be finding out what they’re getting right now. After nations agreed to lower their fossil-fuel subsidies at the Toronto G8 summit, ... Read more

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