Few outside of Washington have ever heard of the Office of Fossil Energy (OFE), until last week.
The small agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) doesn't have a huge imprint on the Web or social media, yet that didn't stop Twitter from exploding with gossip amid a petition circulating around the Web calling for the US and other G8 nations to end “taxpayer handouts” to oil and gas companies. The formerly little known agency may be at the center of a hot election year hot topic as President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spar over proposals for the Keystone XL pipeline slated to run through much of the Midwest.
Over 636 mentions to the agency were recorded on Twitter May 18--the majority focused on the trillions of US dollars funding fossil fuels, the result of petition on Avaaz.org.
The petition, which urges the president “to honor your commitments to taxpayer handouts to the fossil fuel industry, and go a step further by re-directing that money into clean energy instead” has garnered over half a million signatures. It also calls on the industrialized nations of the world to make ending payments to big polluters a top priority ahead of the Rio Earth Summit in June. But how exactly the Office of Fossil Energy could implement such a lofty goal remains unclear.
The primary mission of the OFE is to ensure our nation can rely on clean, affordable energy from traditional fuel resources but has a very modest budget of $564M in 2012. In comparison, ExxonMobil's total US revenue was $73 billion in 2011--more than the proposed FY2013 budget for the entire DOE.
That hasn’t stopped Twitter users from directing their ire at the agency. Comments include:
"$It's crazy: $1 trillion in public handouts to fossil fuels each year," @IngridRichert tweeted. May 19. "Put $1 trillion to clean energy!"
"Fossil fuel subsidies: bad for taxpayers, bad for the economy" Another user tweeted.
The belief that the public could influence the agency to spearhead the next great energy revolution has run into serious opposition--not just from oil and gas interests, but logic. According to AllGov.com, companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron are major stakeholders in the Office of Fossil Energy. Representatives from the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the Western States Petroleum Association, and other lobbying groups frequently visit the OFE's offices in Washington, D.C., representing over 700 corporate clients.
A handful of environmental activists and Democrats have taken notice. A bill winding its way through Congress, S. 3080, would terminate the agency, eliminate corporate deductions for manufacturing, investments in supplies and other loopholes, saving taxpayers over $113 million dollars in subsidies overall. The bill has the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), as well as 74 percent of Americans.
But S. 3080 has some big hurdles to overcome before it becomes law--Senate Republicans voted down the proposal in March, killing the measure in the Senate.
Edited by Richard Hartman