Oil and gas companies are probably feeling they've lost their best friend. And they're right.
Their most dependable ally used to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., but he's gone home to Texas, and it's become a much less friendly place for extractive industries. Former President George W. Bush was a huge proponent of the oil and gas industry, and during his eight years in the White House, it had a free hand to drill with the financial help and encouragement of American taxpayers. Now, not so much.
In his budget proposal, President Barack Obama rightly wants to close $31.5 billion worth of what he calls "unjustified tax loopholes" for the industry over the coming decade. That would go a long way toward putting development of clean energy sources on a level playing field with oil and gas and help the country wean itself from dependence on fossil fuels and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the primary cause of global warming.
But it won't be easy. Members of Congress from energy-producing states, including Utah, who have been chummy with the deep-pocketed extraction industries for many years, will fight like cats to keep Americans subsidizing oil and gas producers to the tune of billions of tax dollars every year. But forward-thinking politicians understand that we can't continue to despoil our landscapes, pollute our air and warm our climate by burning fossil fuels.
The subsidies enjoyed by oil and gas producers would be better spent on making our buildings and homes more efficient and encouraging the development of alternative energy sources. Especially in the American West, where climate change is expected to hit hardest and where solar, wind and geothermal energy abound, there must be a shift away from the status quo.
Industry proponents warn that prices of fuel and power will increase, and they are right, to a point. But there is no evidence that prices will rise as much as they predict. And the truth is that oil and gas companies have taken advantage of these huge subsidies to boost their bottom lines, not to increase production or reduce energy prices.
Obama would also charge user fees for processing drilling permits and force companies to "diligently" develop existing leases on public lands or risk losing them. There are thousands of leases on Western lands sitting idle, yet more are sold every year.
Oil and gas have been king in the West, but we no longer can afford their liabilities as we move toward clean and sustainable energy sources.