End Both Fossil Fuel and Clean Energy Subsidies

Last week President Obama touched on sustainability themes during the State of the Union address.  He called for ending federal oil subsidies and shifting that money over to clean energy.  Sounds great for sustainability, right?  Not quite.

To quote the President, “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies…. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

On his first point of not subsidizing yesterday’s energy, I agree wholeheartedly.

Oil companies have been given billions of dollars of federal subsides. Federal subsidies skew the marketplace, giving fossil fuels the advantage thus making it difficult for clean energy to compete. The federal government and oil corporations have been doing this for decades and this needs to be stopped.

On his second point of “investing” in tomorrow’s energy, depending on how the term “investing” is used, it is a statement I can either strongly support, or adamantly oppose.  Here is why:

If the term “investing” means personal or private funds being used for clean energy, then I am all for it. We definitely need not only to invest, but to have broad spectrum fruition of clean energy. Eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies will help bring clean energy to be more competitive and desirable in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, I think the President was implying otherwise, where the term “investing” is equates to federal subsidies. I must object to this position of federal clean energy subsidies.

Think of it this way, if it were any other president advocating for increasing federal fossil fuel subsidies, would we not be against this? Sure we would be against this not only because it is supporting fossil fuels. But would we not also be against federal fossil fuel subsidies because the government favors one corporation over another (a fossil fuel corporation over a clean energy corporation?)

We have criticized former presidents for being in bed with big oil. I am afraid the same logic rings true if clean energy is subsidized by the federal government. Folks that oppose clean energy can use the same argument, that the President and “big clean energy” are in bed together. Supporting federal clean energy subsidies whilst opposing fossil fuel subsidies would make us out to be hypocrites.

In essence, stop the federal oil and energy subsidies, but don’t start new ones. This is not a call to end clean energy, just clean energy subsidies.

If we truly are to be stewards of sustainability, we need to hold true to people, planet, and profits.

Yes, let’s get clean energy into the marketplace to support the longevity of our planet. But, let us also build sustaining relationships with people, even with the folks that oppose clean energy. We can’t do that by saying one thing yet doing another. This way, we can make an honest profit, no federal subsidies necessary.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

5 responses

  1. Interesting editorial. Seems like the same story repeating itself with different characters. This is not how we achieve progress. Obama has also sided with Immelt – someone who grew GE’s finance arm to two thirds the size of the manufacturing portion of the company, which of course went bust during the crisis. That was a huge mistake. Progress…change…nope. Obama = big fail.

    Also, I would like to add that Obama never mentioned climate change one time during his speech. Fail.

    Only when last tree dies, last river is polluted and last fish gone will we realize we cannot eat money…

  2. Good observation about the climate change. Perhaps he was catering to the new congress, of which the majority probably does not believe in it. Politically savvy, but not necessarily moving in the right err left direction.

    1. Unfortunately, I suspect he’s catering to the reality of the American public. Certain political elements out there have convinced huge numbers of people that even mentioning “climate change” makes you some kind of communist.

  3. I tend to agree. The government should not be picking winners– look at ethanol! A carbon tax would provide a net subsidy to clean energy while allowing markets to call the shots on *which* technologies get adopted.

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