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03 14, 2012 by The Wall Street Journal
President Obama says he wants to end subsidies for what he calls "the fuel of the past," but lucky for him oil and gas will be the fuels of the future too. His budget-deficit blowout would be so much worse without Big Oil, because the truth is that this industry is subsidizing the government.
Much, much worse, actually. The federal Energy Information Administration reports that the industry paid some $35.7 billion in corporate income taxes in 2009, the latest year for which data are available. That alone is about 10% of non-defense discretionary spending—and it would cover a lot of Solyndras. That figure also doesn't count excise taxes, state taxes and rents, royalties, fees and bonus payments. All told, the government rakes in $86 million from oil and gas every day—far more than from any other business.
Not paying their "fair share"? Here's a staggering fact: The Tax Foundation estimates that, between 1981 and 2008, oil and gas companies sent more dollars to Washington and the state capitols than they earned in profits for shareholders.
Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil and gas company, says that in the five years prior to 2010 it paid about $59 billion in total U.S. taxes, while it earned . . . $40.5 billion domestically. Another way of putting it is that for every dollar of net U.S. profits between 2006 and 2010, the company incurred $1.45 in taxes. Exxon's 2010 tax bill was three times larger than its domestic profits. The company can stay in business because it operates globally and earned a total net income after tax of $30.5 billion in 2010 on revenues of $370.1 billion.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's 2013 budget—like its 2012, 2011 and 2010 vintages—includes a dozen-odd tax increases that would raise the industry's liability by $44 billion over the next decade, according to the White House, and by $85 billion, according to the trade group the American Petroleum Institute (API). At any rate, the President's economists ought to be weeping for joy for the revenue windfall from an industry that grew 4.5% in 2011, compared to overall GDP growth of 1.7%.
Crunching Compustat North America numbers, API estimates that the average effective tax rate for oil and gas companies is 41.1% for 2010—i.e., taxes as a share of net income. That is broadly in line with the Energy Information Administration's estimates for "major energy producers." By the same measure, other manufacturers on the S&P Industrial index pay an effective rate of 26.5%.
Specific oil and gas investments are also taxed at higher rates than other energy plays, which were surveyed in a 2009 paper by economist Gilbert Metcalf, now a deputy assistant Treasury secretary. He found that oil drilling (for an integrated company) clocks in at a 15.2% tax rate, refining at 19.1% and building a natural gas pipeline at 27%.
For comparison, nuclear power comes in at minus-99.5%, wind at minus-163.8% and solar thermal at minus-244.7%—and that's before the 2009 Obama-Pelosi stimulus. In other words, the taxpayer loses more the more each of these power sources produces.
As for the "subsidies" that Mr. Obama says the oil industry receives, these aren't direct cash handouts like those that go to the green lobby. They're deductions from taxes that cover the cost of doing business and earning income to tax in the first place. Most of them are available to other manufacturers.
What Mr. Obama really means is that he wants to put the risky and capital-intensive process of finding, extracting and producing oil and gas at a competitive disadvantage against other businesses. He does so because he ultimately wants to make them more expensive than his favorites in the wind, solar and ethanol industries.
Why he would still want to do this amid the political panic over $4 per gallon gasoline is a mystery. Even Mr. Obama now claims to want lower gas prices, commenting recently that "Do you think the President of the United States going into re-election wants gas prices to go up higher?" Too bad his every policy choice, and especially his tax agenda, would lead to higher prices.
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