Oil Money Trumps Energy Policy

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Yesterday evening the Senate passed a watered down version of the energy bill that the House of Representatives passed last week. The oil and gas industry, and their allies in the Senate to whom they’ve given millions in campaign contributions, kept their billions in tax giveaways; while investment in alternative energy sources was deferred.

The bill started out the day much stronger. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called a cloture vote (to end debate and advance progress) on the bill while it still had the repeal of $14 billion in oil industry tax giveaways in place. It failed, on a vote of 59-40, just one vote short of passage. The 59 Senators voting in favor of advancing this bill have received an average of $52,536 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2004. Those voting to stall the bill, however, have taken more than double that -- $109,696 on average over the same time period (according to our analysis of figures provided by the Center for Responsive Politics).

The final version of the bill, passed on a vote of 86-8, kept the House provision to increase fuel economy in automobiles by 40 percent, but preserved the oil industry tax breaks and also cut a provision to require utility companies to make greater use of renewable energy sources.

Money played its role in shelving the renewable energy requirements as well. Since 1990, electric utilities alone have poured $118,129,913 into the campaign coffers of federal candidates. In the same time period, the alternative energy industry has given a fraction of that: $3,029,715.

What could have been an historic piece of legislation to aggressively pursue alternative energies, address global warming, and decrease our dependence on oil fell victim to the influence of campaign money.

So long as our elected officials remain dependent on wealthy special interests to finance their campaigns, efforts to advance responsible environmental policy will suffer. Fortunately, Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) took the first step to address this problem when they introduced the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate to provide for full public financing of Senatorial campaigns. To put an end to the undue influence of Big Oil and their ilk on our elections, and our policy, the Fair Elections Now Act must be passed into law. Click here to sign on as a citizen co-sponsor and spread the word about Fair Elections.