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Tue May 12, 2020, 05:59 PM

Fossil Fuels Already Get Billions in Bailouts -- They're Called Subsidies

Jamie Henn, Truthout
May 11, 2020

Recently, the Federal Reserve announced that it would be loosening its lending guidelines so that more corporations, even those with massive pre-existing debts, could take part in the bailout feeding frenzy. As Alexis Goldstein explains, the main beneficiary of these changes was the group that lobbied hardest for them: the fossil fuel industry. Of all the reasons why coal, oil and gas companies donít deserve more public support, thereís one thatís particularly glaring: theyíre already getting it. Thatís right: Every year, for over a century, these companies have gotten tens of billions of dollars in bailouts. Theyíre just called something different: subsidies.

The level of existing government support for the fossil fuel industry is so widespread that itís difficult to calculate. Oil Change International, which has tracked fossil fuel subsidies for years, estimates that direct U.S. government subsidies to oil, gas and coal companies total around $20 billion a year. These figures donít account for the high costs that fossil fuels impose on our environment and public health, nor the $81 billion the military spends each year on defending oil reserves overseas, costs that all end up being borne by the public.

When you factor these costs to get a sense of the total subsidies the industry is receiving each year, the numbers skyrocket. According to a 2019 working paper by the International Monetary Fund, the true cost of U.S. fossil fuel subsidies is something closer to $649 billion a year. Thatís nearly 10 times the Department of Educationís budget ($68 billion). Itís also roughly 15 times the $42 billion that went to the National Institutes of Health in 2020.

These subsidies have gone on in various forms for over a century. Over that time, have oil and gas companies used this extravagant government support to create a stable energy industry that sustains workers and communities so theyíre well-equipped to weather crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic? No, just the opposite.


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