U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vt.) pledged Tuesday to introduce legislation to repeal federal tax breaks and subsidies to the profitable fossil fuel industry, declaring at a Capitol Hill rally that the most profitable corporations in the world do not need subsidies from the American people.
The Vermont senator was one of several speakers at the demonstration, which was organized by the environmental grassroots organization 350.org to call out members of Congress who have supported the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline while accepting millions in campaign contributions from oil companies. The rally featured hundreds of protesters decked out in black-and-white referee shirts aiming to blow the whistle on the oil industry's purported power over Congress.
One of the absurdities that goes on right here in Washington, D.C., is that Congress keeps voting not for the interest of our children, not in the interest of our future, but for the profits of the huge oil and coal companies, Sanders told the crowd. In a statement, Congress' longest-serving Independent, who sits with the Democrats, said ending tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies could reduce the federal deficit by more than $40 billion over the next decade.
Sanders' demand was echoed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who led multiple protests against the Keystone XL pipeline last year. One of the events, a two-week sit-in in front of the White House, led to the arrests of about 1,200 demonstrators.
People's chief demand today was that Congress stop giving the fossil fuel industry gifts in the form of billions in useless subsidies just so politicians can cash in the favor for campaign contributions, said McKibben, who is a noted author and environmetal activist. The number 350 refers to the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in parts per million, that scientists say is needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
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The five biggest multinational oil companies -- including ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP --have earned about $1 trillion in profits over the last 10 years. However, while they have raked in massive profits, those companies have also spent immense sums lobbying Congress and federal agencies. In 2011 alone, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports, oil and gas companies spent more than $100 million on lobbying expenditures.
Further, members of the U.S. House of Representatives received nearly $12 million from individuals and political action committees connected to the oil and gas industry between July 2009 and July 2011, according to another analysis by the non-partisan research organization MapLight. Of the 118 House members who counted those industries among their top 10 contributing groups during that period, only two recently voted against a deadline contrived by congressional Republicans that was designed to pressure the Obama administration into fast-tracking the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline construction.