Congressional Texas Dems draw heat for backing fossil fuel subsidies

by | Sep 16, 2021 | Environment, Politics

Texas climate change activists with the Sunrise Movement are condemning several congressional Texas Democrats for supporting fossil fuel subsidies in a major tax plan and spending bill.

President Joe Biden and Progressive House Democrats have been pushing for the repeal of the fossil fuel subsidies as a way to help pay for the Build Back Better Act, a $3.5 trillion budget bill being worked on by Congress. 

“Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil,” Biden said in January. “And I’m going to be going to the Congress asking them to eliminate those subsidies. We’re going to take money and invest it in clean energy jobs in America — millions of jobs in wind, solar, and carbon capture.”

The 10-year spending plan now being hammered out by lawmakers includes a host of Democratic priorities, such as expanding federal healthcare programs, making community college tuition-free for two years, and universal pre-K. It also includes the largest-ever federal investment into clean energy via tax incentives, plus a fee on excess methane emissions.

But this week, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee released the latest draft of the tax plan to fund the major spending bill that shows the subsidies for oil & gas companies largely intact.

The move comes after industry lobbying as well as a letter written by seven House Democrats from Texas in support of the subsidies.

“We firmly believe that the budget reconciliation bill should not unduly disadvantage any industry, and oppose the targeting of U.S. oil, natural gas, and refining with increased taxes and fees and the exclusion of natural gas production from clean energy initiatives,” the Texas lawmakers wrote, arguing that the provisions would lead to job loss, increase energy costs, and slow America’s move to a low carbon future.

The letter was signed by seven Democrats; Reps. Henry Cuellar (Laredo), Vicente Gonzalez (McAllen), Lizzie Fletcher (Houston), Marc Veasey (Fort Worth), Filemon Vela (Brownsville), and Sylvia Garcia (Houston).

Sunrise Movement activists in Dallas are planning a protest against Rep. Colin Allred on Monday in response to the pro-natural gas letter. 

“The politicians who signed this letter want subsidies for factories that are polluting low-income and majority-minority neighborhoods throughout Texas and the Gulf South,” said Javier Enriquez, a Sunriser who was arrested after marching 400 miles from New Orleans to protest on the lawn of Sen. Ted Cruz. 

Kashish Bastola, a 17-year-old Sunriser and former Summer fellow with the 2020 Allred campaign said, “Representative Allred, we got you elected. We won’t forget this.”

Another Climate action group, Friends of the Earth, recently organized a similar protest in Massachusetts to pressure Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal into ending the subsidies. “This bill is fundamentally at odds with the President’s commitment to repeal fossil fuel subsidies,” said Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica on Thursday. 

Environmental groups have praised key pieces of the spending plan, but many see the end of the subsidies as crucial to combating climate change. 

Matt Casale, director of environment campaigns for the Public Interest Research Group, said, “the full House should go a step further, and eliminate the domestic subsidies still in place for the oil and gas industries. These subsidies just throw fuel on a fire that’s already burning down our house.”

Progressive lawmakers in Congress are also criticizing the failure to end the oil subsidies. 

“The President specifically called for ending subsidies to the oil & gas industry,” wrote Rep. Ro Khanna of California. “Why isn’t it part of the reconciliation package?”

In August, Khanna led more than 50 lawmakers in asking House leadership to repeal the fossil fuel subsidies in the Build Back Better Act.

“The U.S. federal and state governments give the fossil fuel industry over $20.5 billion in support each year through the tax code, inadequate royalty rates, and direct funding,” lawmakers said. “Fossil fuel subsidies should be repealed because, instead of enhancing American energy independence or creating jobs, they simply enhance the profits of fossil fuel companies.” 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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