Democrats propose taxing profits on oil companies as prices skyrocket

Democrats propose taxing profits on oil companies as prices skyrocket
ElizabethForMA

Congressional Democrats on Thursday introduced the bicameral Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax to target price gouging by profit-gorging fossil fuel companies amid Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

"This is a bill to reduce gas prices and hold Big Oil accountable," declared Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who's leading the measure in the U.S. House.

"As Russia's invasion of Ukraine sends gas prices soaring," said Khanna, "fossil fuel companies are raking in record profits. These companies have made billions and used the profits to enrich their own shareholders while average Americans are hurting at the pump."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced the legislation in the upper chamber along with co-sponsors including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The proposal followed President Joe Biden's announcement earlier this week of a ban on U.S. imports of Russian fuels and amid swelling accusations that Big Oil has been taking advantage of the crisis in Ukraine to "pad their bottom line with war-fueled profits."

The Democrats' proposal aims to get some relief for Americans, who are facing average gas prices of $4.31 a gallon.

Big oil companies, specifically those that produce or import at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day, are targeted under the measure. They would face a per-barrel tax—whether the oil is domestically produced or imported—equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019.

The measure exempts smaller companies, which, according to a statement from the lawmakers, account for roughly 70% of the domestic production. This approach is meant to deter the larger multinational producers from simply raising prices.

The tax imposed on the energy firms would be quarterly. Consumers would receive quarterly rebates, with the relief phasing out for single filers earning more than $75,000 annually and joint filers earning more than $150,000 annually. The lawmakers project the tax to raise $45 billion per year at $120 per barrel of oil, delivering to single filers $240 annually and joint filers $360 annually.

"While Putin's war is causing gas prices to go up, Big Oil companies are raking in record profits," Warren said in a statement. "We need to curb profiteering by Big Oil and provide relief to Americans at the gas pump—that starts with ensuring these corporations pay a price when they price gouge, and using the revenue to help American families," she said.

A number of social justice and climate groups heaped praise on the legislative proposal.

According to Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, "The oil and gas industry got the world into this mess by lobbying and lying to keep us hooked on fossil fuels. Now they're using the war in Ukraine to distract us from the fact that they are ripping off hard working Americans with high gas prices as they reap record earnings."

"It's time we stop allowing Big Oil to use its record profits, earned on the backs of hard-working American families, to reward wealthy shareholders and CEOs, and instead make them pay a fair share to lower the cost for consumers," he added.

Collin Rees, U.S. program director at Oil Change International, welcomed the proposal as precisely the opposite of what the fossil fuel lobby has called for to counter Putin's power, namely expanded domestic fossil fuel production.

"The so-called 'solutions' to the energy crisis being put forward by Big Oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute would do nothing but further line their own pockets and lock in a climate-wrecking, fossil-fueled future," he said. "What’s needed now is immediate relief for American consumers, which is what this commonsense windfall profits tax bill would provide."

The bill also drew plaudits from Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth, which released an analysis Thursday along with BailoutWatch finding that Big Oil CEOs have "absolutely" used the spiked in fuel prices triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine to "price-gouge and profiteer."

In a statement responding to the new legislation, Ross said: "All-American oil oligarchs are profiteering off the war in Ukraine while sacrificing our communities and climate. The windfall profits tax will require Big Oil to pay their fair share while putting billions of dollars back into the pockets of taxpayers."

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