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Friday, October 1, 2010

Energy Tax Policy: Issues in the 111th Congress

Molly F. Sherlock
Analyst in Economics

Donald J. Marples
Section Research Manager

Energy tax policy involves the use of one of the government’s main fiscal instruments, taxes (both as an incentive and as a disincentive) to alter the allocation or configuration of energy resources and their use. In theory, energy taxes and subsidies, like tax policy instruments in general, are intended either to correct a problem or distortion in the energy markets or to achieve some economic (efficiency, equity, or even macroeconomic) objective. In practice, however, energy tax policy in the United States is made in a political setting, being determined by the views and interests of the key players in this setting: politicians, special interest groups, bureaucrats, academic scholars, and fiscal dictates. As a result, enacted tax policy embodies compromises between economic and political goals, which could either mitigate or compound existing distortions.

The economic rationale for government intervention in energy markets is commonly based on the government’s perceived ability to correct for market failures. Market failures, such as externalities, principal-agent problems, and informational asymmetries, result in an economically inefficient allocation of resources—in which society does not maximize well-being. To correct for these market failures governments can utilize several policy options, including taxes and regulation, in an effort to achieve policy goals.

Current energy policy reflects efforts to achieve both current and past policy objectives. Recent legislative efforts have primarily focused on renewable energy production and conservation to address environmental concerns. In contrast, past efforts attempted to reduce reliance on foreign energy sources through increased domestic production of fossil fuels. Recently enacted legislation focusing on encouraging renewable energy production and conservation reduces reliance on imported, foreign oil, while also addressing environmental concerns by reducing the use of fossil fuels. Favorable tax preferences given to domestic fossil fuel energy sources also promote domestic energy production, reducing the demand for imported oil.

In the 111
th Congress energy tax legislation continues to be focused on increasing incentives for renewable energy production and conservation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA; P.L. 111-5) expanded and extended a number of tax incentives designed to promote renewable energy, conservation, and alternative technology vehicles. In addition, the President’s 2010 and 2011 Budget Proposals contain a number of provisions that would, if enacted, continue to move energy policy toward promoting alternative energy sources by eliminating a number of the tax subsidies currently available to the oil and gas industry while also imposing additional taxes that would be borne—at least partially—by these industries. The President’s 2011 Budget Proposal continued this policy direction through the proposed removal of a number of subsidies currently available to the coal industry.

Date of Report: September 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 30
Order Number: R40999
Price: $29.95

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