Our Tax System Rewards Polluters

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Above Photo: Shutterstock

Last year, the biggest fossil fuel companies paid zero dollars in taxes — and actually received billions in rebates.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who sparked student protests across the globe, had this to tell the UN General Assembly in New York: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth.”

As a retired businessman and engineer, I can’t help but look at Greta with admiration. Yet I shudder to think that my generation has abdicated our duties to such an extent that we are leaving the mess of climate change on the shoulders of high schoolers.

Lawmakers and business leaders in my generation have a responsibility to act today to mend our planet before these young people have to inherit it. Some of the most straightforward, yet least discussed solutions, lie in our tax system.

Unfortunately, the man-made crisis of climate change is made worse by our man-made tax system. In 2018, many of the biggest fossil fuel companies paid zero dollars in taxes — and actually received billions in rebates. 

These shocking facts, uncovered by the Institute on Taxation and Economy Policy, flew under the radar of mainstream media.

In total, ITEP found that at least 60 of the biggest American corporations didn’t pay a cent in federal taxes in 2018. Of those, 22 are power utilities and oil and gas corporations, including famous names such as Chevron, Halliburton, and Occidental Petroleum — and that was only in 2018.

How is this possible?

In part, it’s because there are a mind-boggling number of tax incentives offered to fossil fuel companies. There are deductions for domestic fossil fuel production, tax credits for vague “intangible drilling costs,” and deferred federal tax payments.

In 2016, the Wall Street Journal estimated that these provisions amounted to $4.76 billion per year given out to fossil fuel companies from the federal government.

That was before GOP corporate tax cuts worsened the problem in 2017 by slashing the industry’s already low tax rate and offering a new deduction for capital expenditures — while simultaneously opening up half a million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to new drilling.

Companies like Chevron will tell you they’re committed to preventing climate change, pointing to their $100 million pledge to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an industry-led organization allegedly dedicated to fighting climate change.

This is a paltry amount compared to the $4.5 billion in profit they made in 2018 — or even to the $955 million they avoided in taxes thanks to the Republican tax cuts. Chevron received a $181 million rebate on Tax Day.

Essentially, American taxpayers lost $955 million, funded a $100 million PR stunt, and paid $81 million directly to the corporation to fund more drilling and exploration our planet literally cannot afford. Chevron’s not unique, either — Occidental did the same thing.

While the current administration lets fossil fuel companies raid America’s natural resources and its coffers, the rest of us can’t sit back and wait for change. Greta certainly isn’t, and she’s only 16.

Tax incentives should encourage better behavior from corporations, not pay polluters to profit from environmental degradation.

Forcing our elected officials and 2020 candidates to introduce incentives for fixing climate change — and remove those that accelerate it — should be on the top of the agenda. our economy and the health of our environment ultimately go hand-in-hand, and it’s long past time our tax system reflected that.

  • voza0db

    When the author writes “polluters” he is most definitely NOT THINKING about these average polluters!



    But the FUNNIEST PART is that EVEN in Greta’s Land they don’t care about it either…

  • Alan MacDonald

    Charlie, In February 2019, the centre-right American Action Forum, estimated that the plan could cost between $51–$93 trillion over the next decade.[63] They estimate its potential cost at $600,000 per household.

    There has been over a century of dumping fossil fuel “Negative Externality Costs” on our planet that made trillions in faux-profits, which should be ‘clawed-Back” from those UHNWI and ruling-elites who gorged on those looted, hoarded, and unproductive phony profits.

    This is now the major way that the ultra-rich and their global corporations and banks loot the entire world, which is now just one fully integrated but well camouflaged and Disguised Global Crony Capitalist EMPIRE, as Prof. Robinson first and most accuarately diagnosed in 2014:

    “The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures from dominant
    groups around the world to resolve problems of global capitalism and to
    secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In this regard, “U.S.”
    imperialism refers to the use by transnational elites of the U.S. state
    apparatus (hard & soft powers) to continue to attempt to expand,
    defend, and stabilize the global capitalist system. We are witness less
    to a “U.S.” imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism.
    We face an EMPIRE OF GLOBAL CAPITAL, headquartered, for evident
    historical reasons, in Washington.”
    [Caps added]

    Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity, 2014 Robinson, William
    Cambridge University Press.

  • chetdude

    ‘In 2016, the Wall Street Journal estimated that these provisions amounted to $4.76 billion per year given out to fossil fuel companies from the federal government.’

    And caused at least $4.76 Trillion in environmental and social damage…