Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) serves as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. (He is also the uncle of highly photogenic model Kate Upton, who I mention because people sometimes search for “Kate Upton” and maybe they’d like to learn a little something about energy subsidies instead of seeing photographs of Kate Upton.) Upton (I’m talking about Fred here; I don’t know about Kate) used to want to combat climate change until the Republican Party moved 45.6 million light years to the right of its pre-2000 political positions.
Upton, like every member of the House, is running for reelection, which means that he now has to move about 45 feet back to the left. And, voilà:
Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is calling for removal of oil-and-gas industry tax breaks if subsidies for green energy are also eliminated.
Upton’s comments, at a Monday night debate with Democratic challenger Mike O’Brien, arrive a week after Mitt Romney said billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks would likely be jettisoned under his proposal to lower the overall corporate tax rate.
“I’m for putting all of these on an even footing,” Upton said. “Let’s look at the oil and gas subsidies, let’s take them away. Let’s let them compete just like everyone else at the same level. We can do that with the tax code to take those special provisions away.”
Here he is saying it, via the Kalamazoo Gazette:
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Sounds reasonable! It isn’t.
Imagine a racetrack. What Upton is implying is that he’d like to see both fossil fuel companies and renewable companies lined up at the start, waiting for the gun. But that’s not the situation.
Right now, fossil fuel companies start the race about 10 yards from the finish line, while renewables start about 40 yards behind it. And fossil fuels have friends in the audience (friends like some of Upton’s peers in the House) who are running toward renewables to jump on top of them and kick them and call them names. They’re bringing over a giant comic-strip-style ball and chain to shackle to renewables’ ankles. (I know that doesn’t make sense. Just go with it.) Point is: The race is already fixed.
What Upton proposes isn’t putting both camps back at the starting line. It’s that fossil fuel companies have to move back five yards and that renewables move back 10 more. It’s such a stacked race already that eliminating subsidies for both fossil fuels and renewables will serve only to make renewables’ position worse. Fossil fuels have benefited not just from a century of explicit subsidies but from the military’s reliance on oil and from our expensive, massive highway system and from a century of infrastructure built around fossil fuels and from millions and millions of dollars in political contributions and community investments. Eliminating a few tax credits for the oil industry would not level the playing field.
Upton no doubt knows this, but most people don’t. To most people, this plan sounds reasonable, even “moderate.” But it is to sensible policy what Kate Upton’s beachwear is to proper church attire. Namely: Not very close. And revealing a lot about the person behind it.