Several years ago when I was writing an article about solar energy, I tried without success to find a reliable figure for how much the U.S. spent subsidizing fossil fuels. So I was delighted to see that the Environmental Law Institute has released a report that answers that very question.

The big number: Between 2002 and 2008, government subsidies to fossil fuels totaled $72 billion. Renewable fuels got $29 billion during those years, but nearly half of that money went to corn-based ethanol, which is more of a sop to corn-growing states than a real solution to environmental problems. And those subsidy figures aren’t entirely comparable either, the ELI authors point out:

Most of the largest subsidies to fossil fuels were written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provisions. By comparison, many subsidies for renewables are time-limited initiatives implemented through energy bills, with expiration dates that limit their usefulness to the renewables industry.

Year after year, U.S. taxpayers help keep oil and coal prices low, and decades of low fossil-fuel prices have encouraged us to build homes, cars, and cities that use far more energy than necessary. Our tax dollars have been funding air pollution and climate change. It’s time to get fossil-fuel subsidies out of the tax code.

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