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Hey, Senator Rounds! Leave Education Alone; Save More by Killing Fossil-Fuel Subsidies

Senator Marion Michael Rounds thinks we can make America greater by getting rid of the federal Department of Education.

We could save far more money—and lives, and maybe the whole planet—by eliminating federal subsidies for fossil fuels:

This paper updates estimates of fossil fuel subsidies, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices (i.e., prices warranted by supply costs, environmental costs, and revenue considerations), for 191 countries. Globally, subsidies remained large at $4.7 trillion (6.3 percent of global GDP) in 2015 and are projected at $5.2 trillion (6.5 percent of GDP) in 2017. The largest subsidizers in 2015 were China ($1.4 trillion), United States ($649 billion), Russia ($551 billion), European Union ($289 billion), and India ($209 billion). About three quarters of global subsidies are due to domestic factors—energy pricing reform thus remains largely in countries’ own national interest—while coal and petroleum together account for 85 percent of global subsidies. Efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015 would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP [David Coady, Ian Parry, Nghia-Piotr Le, and Baoping Shang, “Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates,” International Monetary Fund Working Papers, 2019.05.02].

Senator Mike Rounds, hunting the wrong bird....
Senator Mike Rounds, hunting the wrong bird….

Don’t trouble Senator Rounds with that green pro-life mumbo-jumbo; let’s just focus on the fiscal argument:

Buckle’s analysis of the inefficiency of fossil fuel subsidies is illustrated best by the United States’ own expenditure: the $649 billion the US spent on these subsidies in 2015 is more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education. When read in conjunction with a recent study showing that up to 80% of the United States could in principle be powered by renewables, the amount spent on fossil fuel subsidies seems even more indefensible [James Ellsmoor, “United States Spend Ten Times More on Fossil Fuel Than Education,” Forbes, 2019.06.15].

Funding education helps produce intelligent workers and consumers who support the free market; subsidizing fossil fuels distorts a free market that would otherwise dump old, dirty energy sources:

Dylan Tanner, executive director of pro-transparency monitor InfluenceMap, said that if the costs of health care, welfare and working hours lost were considered in the costing of fossil fuel subsidies, “these type of activities would be completely driven out of the market.”

He said many companies generating energy from coal — the fuel that receives the most state funding — “are not valued as viable concerns” without continued financial support.

In 2017 the V20 group of nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change issued a call for G20 countries to phase out “market distorting” fossil fuel subsides by 2020.

…[Tanner] “…coal technology… hasn’t sold a single unit on the open market without a government-backed loan” [“Fuel Subsidies Defy Green Trend Amid Rising Climate Alarm,” The Japan Times, updated 2019.05.25].

Senator Rounds could choose to target hundreds of billions of dollars of counterproductive federal spending on inefficient, polluting energy sources. Instead he chooses to revive a laughable culture-war meme from his 2014 campaign, a slogan-romp he has no intention, let alone chance, of carrying out.


  1. Nick Nemec 2019-06-20

    That statue of Rounds certainly is larger than life size.

  2. Donald Pay 2019-06-20

    Nick, that’s the first thing I noticed as well. I assume the statue is on a base, so that might account for the height differential.

  3. Robert McTaggart 2019-06-20

    Wait a minute….you just buried the headline…you mean renewables can’t do 100%?

    From the link to the article about 80% renewables…

    “However, to reliably meet 100% of total annual electricity demand, seasonal cycles and unpredictable weather events require several weeks’ worth of energy storage and/or the installation of much more capacity of solar and wind power than is routinely necessary to meet peak demand.”

    If only there were a carbon-free method to back up renewables so that we can reduce carbon whether or not enough energy storage capacity ever becomes viable.

    Point of order: I think your subsidy numbers above need to consider the amount of subsidy per person and/or per nugget of energy delivered to the consumer. Yes, you could reduce that number if you divide by the capacity built, but a fair comparison is the energy that we actually use.

    If 80% of our energy is delivered by renewables, and we need to build 3 or 4 solar panels or 3 or 4 wind turbines to use one of each, and we over-build because batteries are not ready, then that subsidy could be pretty large.

  4. Robert McTaggart 2019-06-20

    Hmmm….85% of global subsidies. Fossil fuels accounted for 80% of our energy (of which electricity is only a part) in 2017. But natural gas is about 30% of our energy today. So coal and petroleum would cover 50% of our energy.

    If they are really talking about fossil fuel subsidies, then 85% of the subsidies for 80% of the energy would not be out of whack. 85% for 50% may be a different story.

  5. Debbo 2019-06-20

    Scientists say the permafrost in Greenland is melting 70 years earlier than expected. SEVENTY YEARS!

    Climate change danger is Right Now.

    Island nations are banding together and raising all the hell they can at the UN, G8, and every other venue they can find. Their homes are disappearing at a rapid rate.

    Land grant universities like the University of Minnesota are researching how to farm and what to farm in the new climate.

    In the meantime Demented Donny appoints coal people to positions in the Energy Department and other federal jobs. Coal people. Real dinosaur fuel in the 21st century.

    This administration of dinosaurs has got to go. Senate dinosaurs too.

  6. Jenny 2019-06-20

    The Glacier national Park glaciers are supposed to be all gone in less than 20 years.

  7. Debbo 2019-06-20

    Instead of cutting school, Brainerd, in a conservative area of Minnesota, is being wise.

    “The article described the school board’s approving the final design for redeveloping an elementary school into an early childhood center and also approving construction plans for projects at a high school facility. The article also touched on construction getting underway for renovation at the Forestview Middle School in Baxter.

    “Last month there were stories on groundbreaking ceremonies for elementary school projects, land acquisition for a new school playground and even more.

    “What’s unfolding in the Brainerd School District is one of the more interesting public investment stories in the state, about $205 million for a rural district that serves fewer than 7,000 students. It is a comprehensive, let’s-get-it-done-right program of building and rebuilding across a district with a dozen facilities, a portfolio with an average age of roughly 50 years.”

    As the article says, it’s “public investment.” You pay something in to get something more out. Roundy, that’s how it’s supposed to work, rather than cutting anything related to education, including the department itself. Dummy.

  8. Robert McTaggart 2019-06-20

    Greenland is melting and the glaciers are going. The heartland floods, and the coasts go underwater. But for some, solutions that aren’t 100% wind and solar will STILL not be contemplated.

    Waiting for an ideologically pure solution is the enemy of a solution that gets the job done.

  9. Moses6 2019-06-20

    Could we do not do better than having this joker as a senator.

  10. grudznick 2019-06-20

    Do you know who could explain much of this? Our old friend Mr. Gibilisco. He could settle this right now. #4Science

  11. leslie 2019-06-21

    Yes Doc weather is unpredictable. Trumps subsidizes fossil fuels in an age demanding immediate pivot from carbon. Education funding keeps slipping. And Rounds, a United States senator,is instead searching for a solution to keep himself in office. Just like he clung to the GOP fallicy that OBAMACARE was in a death spiral. Regurgitation of party talking points rather than any personal wisdom from having governed SD should be apparent. But no. He worked with USACOE for a decade, then built a trophy home on the Missouri banks and got flooded out. His party denied climate change, the huge anthropomorphic force bearing down on the basin which composes 32 states. “… the weather changed. The 12 months ending in April were the wettest yearlong period in the United States going back to 1895 and caused devastating flooding across the watersheds of the Mississippi and its tributaries. This is not explicitly a product of climate change, but it does align with our long-term expectation of how the warmer atmosphere will alter—and is already altering—precipitation patterns.” Long term trends, in education, climate management, weather, river management, healthcare systems, energy management, cultural evolution—these worldwide pressures do not fit the narrow capitalistic ideology of the GOP and the insurance industry, but Rounds willingness to demonize solutions foreign to his party and industry disqualify his senatorial leadership.

    He would not have been elected had his complicity in EB5 and GEARUP frauds been protected from investigation by his party. His tactics of evasion in hearing testimony are blueprints for the Trump family grifting of America.

  12. Robert McTaggart 2019-07-01

    Probably a key issue that does not get discussed as much for education is the use of fossil fuel in school buses. I think most of them may be diesel (with or without biodiesel), but I’m not sure what we use in South Dakota today or in the near future.

    Electric school buses are more expensive than diesel up front, but in theory they save money in the long term. The real question is whether cost savings from reduced maintenance overcome the costs of battery replacement / recycling.

    But on the face of it lower maintenance costs should lead to more monies being available for K-12 education from the same budget level.

    Whether other fuels or biofuels do any better would also be of interest. Basically you want to project a 10-15 year total cost of buying, using, repairing, and/or disposing of a bus.

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