Trump Chides Puerto Rico Expenses While U.S. Gives $15 Billion a Year to Fossil Fuel Companies

The president’s upside-down priorities were on full display during his visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Kate Aronoff

President Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base for a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Speak­ing in front of an audi­ence in Puer­to Rico on Tues­day, Trump — sit­ting between his wife Mela­nia and the island’s gov­er­nor Ricar­do Rossel­ló — motioned to White House Bud­get Direc­tor Mick Mul­vaney, who, as he said, is in charge of a thing called budget.”

Trump doesn’t care about Puerto Rico.

I hate to tell you, Puer­to Rico,” Trump spat, but you’ve thrown our bud­get a lit­tle out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of mon­ey on Puer­to Rico, and that’s fine.” He also sug­gest­ed that Hur­ri­cane Maria — which has left 3.4 mil­lion U.S. cit­i­zens with­out pow­er and strug­gling to meet basic needs — didn’t qual­i­fy as a real cat­a­stro­phe” like Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na. Lat­er on, he told a fam­i­ly of Maria vic­tims to have a good time.”

Trump doesn’t care about Puer­to Rico. He also doesn’t care much about spend­ing, which is what makes the remarks he gave on Tues­day so disin­gen­u­ous. Like the rest of the par­ty, Trump’s main con­cern is that fed­er­al mon­ey is spent on the things he likes.

He didn’t moan about the bud­get when Con­gress passed a $700 bil­lion defense bill last week. The Com­mit­tee for a Respon­si­ble Fed­er­al Bud­get esti­mat­ed that the White House’s tax plan would add rough­ly $2.2 tril­lion to the fed­er­al deficit, a charge top eco­nom­ic advi­sor and tax reform archi­tect Gary Cohn found easy enough to dis­miss as imma­te­r­i­al in a White House press brief­ing last week. Talk­ing about the bud­get this past Sun­day, Mul­vaney him­self said, We need … deficits. If we sim­ply look at this as being deficit-neu­tral, you’re nev­er going to get the type of tax reform and tax reduc­tions that you need to get to sus­tain 3 per­cent eco­nom­ic growth.”

Giv­en that he kicked off his tax reform push in front of an oil refin­ery in North Dako­ta, Trump also like­ly also doesn’t care much about the results of a study released Tues­day from Oil Change Inter­na­tion­al, which finds that Con­gress each year extends $14.7 bil­lion in fed­er­al sub­si­dies and $5.8 bil­lion in year­ly state-lev­el incen­tives to the fos­sil fuel indus­try. Accord­ing to the report’s find­ings, the cost of annu­al fed­er­al fos­sil fuel pro­duc­tion sub­si­dies equals the pro­ject­ed 2018 bud­get cuts from Trump’s pro­pos­als to slash 10 pub­lic pro­grams and ser­vices. Mis­placed pri­or­i­ties, not a scarci­ty of resources,” authors write, are dri­ving this administration’s efforts to bal­ance the nation­al bud­get at the expense of the most vulnerable.”

Janet Red­man, U.S. pol­i­cy direc­tor of Oil Change Inter­na­tion­al and prin­ci­pal author of the report, told In These Times that Trump’s state­ments about the bud­get impacts of Hur­ri­cane Maria in Puer­to Rico were moral­ly offen­sive, espe­cial­ly at the same moment that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is still hand­ing out about $15 bil­lion a year in sub­si­dies to some of the most prof­itable indus­tries in the US.”

That he would have the gall to say there’s not mon­ey for recov­ery for Amer­i­can fam­i­lies, tax­pay­ers and work­ers,” she says, real­ly shows Trump’s pri­ma­ry agen­da: to serve the fos­sil fuel indus­try, not the Amer­i­can pub­lic — either here in the main­land or in parts of the coun­try that aren’t right in front to this face.”

The New York Times report­ed that the White House tax plan would bring a poten­tial­ly huge wind­fall for the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans.” It would also be a major boon to the fos­sil fuel indus­try, cut­ting the cor­po­rate tax rate and mak­ing it eas­i­er for them to repa­tri­ate prof­its made from explo­ration abroad.

The Amer­i­can Petro­le­um Insti­tute (API), a trade lob­by for the oil indus­try, said in a state­ment that the pro­pos­al would strength­en” the U.S. ener­gy renais­sance.” API Pres­i­dent and CEO Jack Ger­ard beamed: Our indus­try sup­ports pro-growth tax reform, and today lead­ers in Con­gress and the admin­is­tra­tion demon­strat­ed their com­mit­ment to achiev­ing this shared goal.”

Red­man says that her group’s new study con­sid­ers the def­i­n­i­tion of sub­si­dies used by the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion and Orga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co-oper­a­tion and Devel­op­ment, includ­ing any gov­ern­ment action that would either low­er the cost of pro­duc­tion or con­sump­tion, or raise the price received by pro­duc­ers.” These sorts of poli­cies range from indus­try-spe­cif­ic tax breaks like the intan­gi­ble drilling costs deduc­tion” to pref­er­en­tial leas­ing rates on resource-rich pub­lic lands. And because new fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture tends to last for 30 or 40 years — well beyond when cli­mate sci­en­tists warn many of the world’s economies should be mov­ing to decar­bonize, Red­man says, We’re most con­cerned about the sub­si­dies that dri­ve deci­sion-mak­ing on the pro­duc­er side.”

End­ing fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies is some­thing of a shib­bo­leth for world lead­ers: The G20 first pledged to phase them out in 2009, with lit­tle motion made since in that direc­tion. Even coun­tries con­sid­ered lead­ers in renew­able ener­gy, like Ger­many, still get large parts of their fuel from coal.

A study released in Jan­u­ary by the non-prof­it Stock­holm Envi­ron­men­tal Insti­tute (SEI) found that sub­si­dies can be the make-or-break fac­tor for whether a drilling project moves for­ward. In the absence of these fed­er­al and state incen­tives, researchers note that an esti­mat­ed 45 per­cent of U.S. oil pro­duc­tion would be unprof­itable. Exam­in­ing more than 800 unde­vel­oped U.S. oil fields, the SEI team con­clud­ed that — sans sub­si­dies — near­ly half would nev­er be set up for production.

That the oil indus­try has been strug­gling of late isn’t news to cor­po­ra­tions like Tran­sCana­da, the com­pa­ny behind the Key­stone XL that’s grown increas­ing­ly ambiva­lent about whether the con­tro­ver­sial infra­struc­ture project should be built at all. For many rea­sons, the col­lapse of oil prices in the last sev­er­al years has left the indus­try weak­er than in its hey­day before the crash. Cut­ting sub­si­dies could be a way to kick it while it’s down, and spur the tran­si­tion to renewables.

There’s more than enough mon­ey for sup­port for Puer­to Rico to rebuild, and rebuild in a way that makes it a mod­el for a new ener­gy sys­tem,” Red­man empha­sized. Trump could find that mon­ey imme­di­ate­ly if he want­ed to.”

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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