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Home arrow Blog arrow 1/18/06 House Votes to Void $14 Billion in Oil Tax Breaks

1/18/06 House Votes to Void $14 Billion in Oil Tax Breaks PDF Print E-mail
Written by EDMUND L. ANDREWS   
Friday, 19 January 2007
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 -- The House voted this evening to rescind $14 billion worth of tax breaks and subsidies for oil drillers and channel the money into a fund that would finance renewable energy projects and new technologies for conserving energy.
Despite opposition from the oil industry and the Bush administration, which contended that the bill would unfairly single out oil companies for higher taxes and could increase the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, the measure passed, 264 to 163, with overwhelming support from Democrats and a considerable number of Republicans as well. But the measure may face a tougher time in the Senate, where the Democrats’ margin is much narrower.

The bill would rescind $7.6 billion worth of tax breaks for oil drillers that the Republican-led Congress had passed in 2004 and 2005, and it would raise another $6.3 billion in royalties from companies that pump oil and gas in publicly owned waters of the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.

One key provision is aimed at correcting errors in offshore drilling leases signed by the Interior Department in the late 1990s that would allow oil companies to escape billions of dollars in royalties over the next decade. The provision, hotly opposed by the White House as well as the oil industry, would punish companies that refuse to change their leases by imposing a new “conservation fee” on each barrel they produce or by barring them from acquiring additional leases.

“Big Oil is hitting American taxpayers in three ways,” said Representative Nick V. Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Resources Committee. “They are hitting them at the pump. They are hitting them at the Treasury, through the tax code. And they are hitting them through royalty holidays.”

The oil vote marks the completion of a first wave of measures that House Democratic leaders wanted to pass in their first 100 hours of legislative activity after taking control of Congress.

Senate Democrats are moving more cautiously, but they have made it clear that they support most of the provisions and predicted that most would pass the Senate in one form or another.

The White House said it “strongly objects” to much of the bill, but President Bush has himself opposed additional tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies and stopped short of threatening a veto.

At a hearing of the Senate Energy Committee several hours before the House vote, investigators and Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized the Interior Department’s response to the bungled offshore leases.

Earl E. Devaney, the Interior Department’s inspector general, told lawmakers that midlevel officials apparently failed to inform top officials in the Clinton administration about the problem with the leases and that senior officials in the Bush administration decided in 2004 they were powerless to fix the mistake.

“This, at a minimum, was a shockingly cavalier management approach,” Mr. Devaney said, after noting that the director of the Minerals Management Service, Johnnie M. Burton, had been told of the problem nearly three years ago.

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