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U.S. Taxpayers Have Subsidized Fossil Fuels for 111 Years, and Counting

WASHINGTON — As a candidate in 2020, Joseph R. Biden Jr. campaigned to end billions of dollars in annual tax breaks to oil and gas companies within his first year in office.

It’s a pledge he has been unable to keep as president.

Mr. Biden’s budget request to Congress this week was his fourth attempt to eliminate what he called “wasteful subsidies” to an industry that is enjoying record profits.

“Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil,” Mr. Biden said after his inauguration. His new budget proposal calls for the elimination of $35 billion in tax breaks that would otherwise be provided to the industry over the next decade.

Mr. Biden’s wish is opposed by the oil industry, Republicans in Congress and a handful of Democrats. In Washington, it seems, oil and gas subsidies are the zombies of the tax code: impossible to kill.

“Everybody agrees fossil fuel subsidies are wasteful, stupid and moving things in the wrong direction,” said Michael L Ross, a political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies fossil fuel tax breaks. “Getting rid of them seems to be one of the hardest things to achieve on the climate agenda.”

The oil and gas industry enjoys nearly a dozen tax breaks, including incentives for domestic production and write-offs tied to foreign production. Total estimates vary widely; environmental groups take a broad view of what constitutes a subsidy while the industry hews to a more narrow definition. The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Tracker, run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, calculated the total to be about $14 billion in 2022.

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