Republicans seek audit of energy subsidies

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday requested an accounting of federal spending for energy technology, citing concerns over the amount of subsidies given to the energy sector.

The members want the Government Accountability Office to perform a full audit of energy-related subsidies to see how they interact with markets. The lawmakers want the review to include subsidies for all energy technologies between fiscal 2003 and 2012.

“Despite the expansion and extension of federal support for energy technologies, there is not a thorough understanding of how such federal interventions and subsidies are impacting — either positively or negatively — the energy sector and corresponding energy markets,” the letter signatories said.

Signatories included House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.); Energy and Power subcommittee Chairman Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.); Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.); and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

The request comes after Upton said the federal government should remove tax breaks for both oil and green energy, saying he wants to put those energy technologies “on an even footing.”

And last week, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said oil tax breaks could face the budget axe. 

Both Upton and Romney said such actions would likely need to be complemented by reducing the corporate tax rate.

Senate Republicans resisted cuts to oil-and-gas subsidies in March. They, along with House Republicans, have also sought to limit federal spending on clean-energy technology.

GOP lawmakers contend Democrats and the Obama administration have unwisely intervened in energy markets by providing subsidies to technologies that could not compete without federal support.

Romney attacked President Obama’s energy policies in last week’s debate. He recalled the bankruptcy of California solar panel maker Solyndra, which went bust in 2011 after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee from an Energy Department stimulus program.

The administration and some Democrats say subsidizing clean-energy technology will help U.S. firms remain competitive in a growing global market. 

Obama partially blamed Solyndra’s failure on state-backed Chinese firms flooding the market. He has responded by waging a trade battle with China on the issue, imposing tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels.

The administration and Democrats have also charged that oil-and-gas subsidies are no longer necessary given their profitability and market presence. They say clean-energy technologies should keep receiving subsidies to catch up with legacy technologies, such as oil and gas, that have had a head start with infrastructure.

— This story was updated at 6:21 p.m.