Menendez Reintroduces Legislation to Close Big Oil's Tax Loopholes
February 2, 2011
Washington – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today reintroduced his Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, legislation to close a number of corporate tax breaks that allow oil companies to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. This comes on the heels of President Obama calling in his State of the Union address for the oil company loopholes to be closed – a call that is expected to be reflected in the president’s forthcoming budget proposal.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), targets a series of loopholes related to drilling activities and revenues, as well as foreign tax schemes. Menendez estimates that closing these loopholes will amount to more than $20 billion over ten years for the taxpayers.
Senator Menendez said: “It’s incredible that some of the richest corporations in the history of the world are allowed to shortchange the American taxpayer. Middle class families see the price at the pump rise and wonder why the federal government is heaping favors on oil companies. Lavishing these giant corporations with incentives they don’t need simply deepens our deficit and our dependence on dirty fossil fuels. Our focus should instead be on 21st Century clean energy that powers a jobs boom and cuts down energy costs for middle-class families.”
Senator Merkley said: “We currently spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money subsidizing oil and gas companies even as they reap record profits. We should be investing instead in creating jobs here at home, encouraging development of clean energy technology, and ending our dependence on foreign oil.”
Senator Whitehouse said: "Subsidizing some of the biggest income earning corporations in America is the definition of government waste. We cannot stand by and allow the tax dollars of hard-working Rhode Islanders to be handed over to wealthy big oil companies."
Senator Lautenberg said: “This bill will close tax loopholes that oil companies use to dodge their financial responsibilities to our country and it will help ensure that Big Oil pays its fair share. There is no reason why the biggest and most profitable oil companies should have their own set of special tax breaks while hardworking Americans struggle every day to fuel their cars and heat their homes. Closing loopholes for Big Oil will help reduce the deficit and move our country towards a clean energy future.”
Senator Nelson said: “I think the oil companies could use a taste of their own medicine. Maybe they’ll know what consumers feel like every time they pull up to the pump.”
Among its provisions, the legislation would accomplish the following:
• Recoup royalties that oil companies avoided paying for oil and gas production on public lands
• Prevent oil companies from manipulating the rules on foreign taxes to avoid paying full corporate taxes in the U.S.
• End a number of tax deductions and relief afforded to the oil industry, such as the deductions for classifying oil production as manufacturing, for the depletion of oil and gas through drilling and for costs associated with preparing to drill.
Over the past decade, BP, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and Conoco have combined profits of just under $1 trillion. In 2010 alone, these companies made over $75 billion, and this includes the $17 billion BP has spent trying to clean up their spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rising prices at the pump will mean even greater profits for 2011 because production costs remain flat.
Ending these tax breaks for Big Oil will have no effect on oil production and no effect on gas prices, because the price of oil is plenty high to incentivize drilling. Ending these tax breaks will simply mean that taxpayers will stop padding the already enormous profits of Big Oil.
The Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act is based upon provisions in President Obama’s Budget in which he signaled the need to stop subsidizing polluting industries. The bill does contain important safeguards to allow refineries and oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million to retain certain tax credits and deductions.
Background on legislation:
• Recoup Royalty Revenue Lost to Contract Loopholes: This proposal would create an excise tax on oil and gas produced on federal lands on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in order to pay back American taxpayers for contract loopholes whereby oil and gas companies avoided paying royalties on certain oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico. This would save an estimated $5.3 billion.
• End Oil Companies Abuse of Foreign Tax Credits: Would require that a dual capacity taxpayer establish that the foreign country generally impose an income tax to be able to claim a foreign levy as a creditable tax, saving $8.2 billion.
• Repeal Expensing of Intangible Drilling Costs: Would repeal the deduction for IDCs and require such costs be capitalized as a cost of the well or tangible property and recovered through depreciation or depletion, as applicable. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million would retain the use of this deduction. In the President’s Budget this provision saved $10.9 billion, but the grandfathering of smaller companies will lower that score.
• Repeal Percentage Depletion for Oil and Gas Wells: This proposal would repeal percentage depletion for oil and gas properties. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million would retain the use of this deduction. In the President’s Budget this provision saved $9.6 billion, but the grandfathering of smaller companies will lower that score.
• Repeal Deduction for Tertiary Injectants: The proposal would repeal the current deduction and instead allow oil companies to capitalize and depreciate or deplete costs for tertiary injectants. For example, supply costs would be capitalized and deducted when consumed or as part of cost of goods sold. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million would retain the use of this deduction. In the President’s Budget this provision saved $57 million, but the grandfathering of smaller companies will lower that score.
• Repeal Exemption of Passive Loss Limitations for Interests in Oil and Gas Properties: The proposal would end the exemption from passive loss rules for oil companies so they must operate under the same tax rules as other corporations. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million would retain the use of this exemption. In the President’s Budget this provision saved $217 million, but the grandfathering of smaller companies will lower that score.
• Repeal Domestic Manufacturing Deduction for Oil and Gas Production: This proposal would repeal the ability of oil and gas companies to claim oil and gas production as manufacturing, thus making the production activities ineligible for the domestic production activities deduction. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million would retain the use of this deduction. The deduction would also be retained for oil refining and natural gas processing. This exact proposal has not been scored, but could easily save billions.
• Match Geological and Geophysical Amortization Periods for All Oil and Gas Companies: This proposal would create more uniform amortization rules for geological and geophysical costs. G&G costs are costs incurred in obtaining and accumulating data that serves as the basis for acquiring and retaining oil and gas properties. Oil companies with yearly revenues of less than $100 million could amortize geological and geophysical costs over two years. All others would amortize these costs over 7 years. In the President’s Budget this provision saved approximately $1 billion, but the grandfathering of smaller companies will lower that score.
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