Why are we spending $20 billion of taxpayer money to help fossil fuel companies accelerate the climate crisis?

Our money is quite literally being used to hurtle us faster toward climate disaster.

Aaron Colonnese

Former Content Creator, Editorial & Creative Team, The Public Interest Network


Do you want your money to go toward putting more health-harming and climate-changing pollution into our air? Neither do I.

But that’s exactly what’s happening as a result of tax breaks, incentives and other subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry by the federal government. In fact, fossil fuel subsidies total about $20 billion per year.

For scale: You’d need 200 forklift rides to cart around $20 billion in cash. And all of that money — our money — is quite literally being used to hurtle us faster toward climate disaster.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new congressional session, a growing renewable energy industry, and broad support for bold action on this issue mean we have our best chance ever to convince Congress to put an end to these harmful, unwarranted subsidies.


How fossil fuel subsidies threaten our future

We know that to preserve a livable environment for future generations and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible. But each year, billions of dollars of the money we all pay in taxes are used to incentivize fossil fuel production and, in turn, the greenhouse gas emissions that warm up our planet and pollute our air.

If we keep operating all of our coal-fired power plants, oil-based transportation systems and other fossil fuel infrastructure, they will add more than 650 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — plus another 200 billion tons from new projects that fossil fuel companies are planning around the country.

And burning fossil fuels poses an immediate threat as well — researchers have found that inhaling the particulates produced by burning fossil fuels results in 350,000 American deaths every year.


What we can do about it

Clean, renewable energy sources are already competitive with fossil fuels in many places. Putting an end to the unwarranted advantage we give fossil fuels will not only stop incentivizing this polluting industry, but will allow renewables, such as wind and solar power, to be even more competitive, helping to promote a shift toward cleaner energy.

Just imagine if that annual $20 billion investment went instead to clean, renewable energy!


How we’re going to get there

Americans across the political spectrum believe we should be smart about how we spend our tax dollars and that we should be doing everything we can to avoid the worst environmental and health impacts of climate change.

But given the industry’s deep pockets and outsized political sway, simply having broad public support isn’t enough — we have to advocate and organize if we truly want to end fossil fuel subsidies once and for all.

Strategic advocacy and organizing are what PIRG is built for. Our advocates lobby members of Congress from both parties, build coalitions in the states that include small business owners, health care professionals, religious leaders and people from all walks of life, and talk (virtually, for now) to thousands of people every week.

Combine that with a presidential administration and many members of Congress who support ending these harmful subsidies, and we’re looking at a real chance to turn the tide on climate change and build a better future for generations to come.


Aaron Colonnese

Former Content Creator, Editorial & Creative Team, The Public Interest Network