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Nigeria: Fuel protests turn violent

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Nigerian union members and demonstrators march in Lagos to protest the removal of petroleum subsidies by the government on January 3, 2012. Nigerian police fired tear gas to disperse a small crowd burning tires in Lagos and arrested demonstrators in the northern city of Kano on Tuesday as protests continued over soaring fuel prices. (Pius Utomi Ekpei /AFP/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan said the violence that has erupted from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, is the gravest threat since the civil war in 1967 to 1970 that left as many as 3 million people dead, and nearly ripped the country apart, according to Agence France Presse.

“During the civil war we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from. But the challenge we have today is more complicated,” Jonathan said, according to The Guardian. The president said some Boko Haram supporters even work for the government.

As the Nigerian government attempts to counter this threat, however, the country appears to be descending into chaos. On the first of this year, the president announced an end to government-sponsored fuel subsidies, doubling and tripling the price of gas in a matter of days.

The reaction of the people was swift, as people took to the streets in opposition to the move almost immediately. Yesterday, schools, banks and stores were shuttered, as protests and a general strike swept the nation after an emergency court banned the demonstrations on Sunday, according to Bloomberg News.

The BBC reports at least three people were killed and more than 30 injured in the protests, that drew tens of thousands of people, and are scheduled to continue indefinitely.

CNN reports a higher death toll, citing at least five reported deaths. Hadiza Halliru, an Abuja protester told the broadcaster that soaring fuel prices have caused an increase in the costs of everything from food to school fees. In Nigeria, more than 90 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day.

“The fuel hike, which has doubled and even tripled in some states, would affect not only transportation but the price of foodstuff, clothing, any form of direct labor, construction costs,” he told CNN. “But salaries still remain the same, which means everyone who directly pays bills will be affected, especially the middle class and the poor.”

In a photo on the Voice of America website, one man carries a placard that reads: “One day the poor will have nothing to eat but the rich.”

The fuel subsidy cost the government $8 billion in 2011, and some argue it never really helped the average Nigerian person get ahead. Critics of the subsidy say it filtered large amounts of money into the hands of the few, leaving the country with very little in the way of infrastructure development.

As the debate over the subsidy raged last fall, a Nigerian Tribune editorial hailed local leaders for standing up to the people profiting from the subsidy. The author, Joshua Ocheja, writes:

“We can’t sit and watch while an infinitesimal percentage of the population milk us dry in the name of fuel subsidy … It is high time we called a spade a spade in this country. Our elected officials must account for their actions and inactions as it concerns the populace.

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Gone with the Wind Subsidies

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Nicolas Loris
December 9, 2011 at 10:52 am

The year 2012 marks a monumental yet depressing milestone for the wind energy industry: 20 years of tax credits.

The federal renewable energy production tax credit, which allows wind producers to take a 30 percent investment tax credit or receive a 2.2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit, has been around since 1992. The tax credit expires at the end of 2012, and the wind energy advocates are already ramping up their efforts to include an extension in any end-of-the-year must-pass legislation. It’s time to let this wasteful, unnecessary subsidy run out.

The Wrong Way to Promote Technology

Let’s take it back to 1992. The parents are watching Murphy Brown, the kids are watching Full House, and people are rockin’ out to Nirvana and Dr. Dre. (Some things never change.) And wind was ready to usher in a new era of energy production. In fact, Matthew Wald wrote in a 1992 New York Times article, “A New Era for Windmill Power,” that “striking improvements in technology, the commercial use of these windmills, or wind turbines as the builders call them, has shown that in addition to being pollution free, they can now compete with fossil fuels in the cost of producing electricity.”

He went on: “Kingsley E. Chatton, president of U.S. Windpower, which operates 22 new-generation windmills here, said the economics of wind power was at the point where it ‘will compete with fossil fuel.’ Others agree.”

Twenty years of subsidies later, wind still only provides a paltry 2.3 percent of America’s electricity in 2010, and it still needs subsidies.

Jim Nelson, CEO of Solar3D, argues that government subsidies are obstructing innovation in the renewable-energy sector:

Operating subsidies, or installation subsidies, helps get clean energy sources installed but the problem is that current technology is not economically competitive. Everything we do needs to be done with a view toward global competitiveness. Unfortunately, because current technology is not economical relative to alternatives, it does not promote our competitiveness.

The problem is that subsidies promote technological malaise. They take away the incentive to innovate and lower cost by promoting business models geared more toward gaining favor with politicians than on technological innovation. The result is that subsidized industries quickly become dependent on government. At that point, long-term competitiveness becomes secondary to near-term survival, which is generally conditioned on more handouts.

Thus when the government support is threatened, the propped-up industry responds with pleas for more handouts. Recognizing that their survival depends more on securing subsidies than on technological innovation, subsidized industries reject such investments to the extent that they too are not subsidized by government. Hence, the vicious cycle of subsidies inevitably result in technological stagnation.

When 2.2 Cents Adds Up

That 2.2 cents doesn’t sound like much, but it is on average 40 percent of the wholesale price of electricity. Treasury says the tax credits costs taxpayers $1.5 billion annually. This is uncalled for. Not only is the nation facing $15 trillion of debt, but it already has access to ample supplies of diverse electricity sources that are perfectly capable of meeting our energy demands so long as government gets out of the way. Not only are the subsidies not needed, but they do not work. So regardless of our debt problems, taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing any energy source.

Artificially Creating Politically Preferred Jobs and More Lobbying Jobs Will Not Grow Our Economy

Wind-energy advocacy groups are on their megaphones screaming that without the extension of the tax credits, thousands of jobs will be lost. This is a half true, at best.

Subsidizing uneconomical industries, as perhaps the wind-energy tax credit has done for two decades, shifts labor and capital away from other sectors of the economy. Removing the subsidy would free up these resources to be more productive elsewhere in the U.S. economy. In the process, jobs that rely on taxpayer handouts would likely go away. But the newly available resources could then go toward the likely creation of more and better jobs.

If we produce more wind energy without subsidies, all the better, but the American Wind Energy Association says that may not be the case if the tax credit expires. Spokesman Peter Kelly said, “Industrywide we are seeing a slowdown in orders for towers and turbines after 2012 that is rippling down the supply chain and the big issue is the lack of certainty around the production tax credit that gives a favorable low tax rate to renewable energy.”

President of the Cheyenne and Laramie County economic development organization Randy Bruns echoed, “A lot of these projects, the economics change without that tax credit.”

If wind energy is not economically viable without the taxpayers’ crutch, then we’re propping up a market loser. If wind energy is a market winner, the subsidy is taking money out of the taxpayers’ wallets and putting into the hands of the wind producers. Neither case makes any sense.

Removing the government’s influence in the market reduces the need for more office space on K Street in Washington, D.C., the central hub of lobbyists. Just yesterday, Occupy Wall Street shut down K Street with protests, but they should direct their message to the root cause of lobbying—government controlling decisions that are best left for the private sector. If Occupy Wall Street is sincere in its fight against crony capitalism, it would be arguing for less government intervention into the economy, not more.

These problems will continue to persist so long as politicians continue to expand subsidies for their pet projects. When it comes to energy subsidies, we need to prevent the new and repeal the old.

That’s my 2.2 cents. I’d like to keep them in my own pocket.

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World Bank: ditch fossil fuel subsidies to address climate change

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Leaked Leaked documents seen by Guardian say rich countries should use money to help poorer countries adapt to climate change

World Bank documents propose that rich countries should eliminate the $50bn a year they give in fossil fuel subsidies, in order to financially help poor countries address climate change.

The documents, due to be presented to the G20 finance ministers in November, also suggest that countries redirect “climate aid” money already pledged, towards the propping up ailing carbon markets.

The Mobilizing Climate Finance paper, seen in draft form by the Guardian, has been prepared at the request of the world’s leading economies. It is likely to provide a template for action in the UN climate talks that resume in Panama next week, in preparation for a major meeting of 194 countries in Durban in November.

According to the confidential paper, there is little likelihood that in the current economic climate, public money will be available for raising the $30bn rich countries have pledged for the 2010-2012 period, and the $100bn a year that must be found by 2020. Instead, says the paper, “the large financial flows required for climate stabilization and adaptation will, in the long run, be mainly private in composition”.

It says: “A starting point should be the removal of subsidies on fossil fuel use. New OECD estimates indicate that reported fossil fuel production and consumption supports in Annex II countries [24 OECD countries] amounted to about $40-$60bn per year in 2005-2010 … if reforms resulted in 20% of the current level of support being redirected to public climate finance, this could yield $10bn per year.

“Reform of fossil fuel subsidies in developed countries is a promising near-term option because of its potential to improve economic efficiency and raise revenue in addition to environmental benefits.”

New analysis, says the paper, suggests that half the $50bn-a-year fossil fuel subsidies go to the oil industry, and around a quarter to coal and natural gas. It says: “About two-thirds of total fossil fuel support in 2010 was estimated to be for consumer support, with a little over 20% being producer support.”

Developing countries are increasingly frustrated by the refusal of rich countries to meet their climate finance pledges. But they are unlikely to approve of the bank’s innovative proposal that some of the money pledged to them should be used to prop up struggling carbon markets.

The report proposes: “Governments could make innovative uses of climate finance to sustain momentum in the market while new initiatives are being developed. They could, for example, dedicate a fraction of their international climate finance pledges to procure carbon credits for testing and showcasing new approaches, such as country programme concepts, new methodologies, CDM reforms and new mechanisms.

“This would be a cost-efficient use of climate finance as it would target least cost-options and would be performance-based. It would also help build up a supply pipeline for a future scaled-up market, preventing future supply shortages and price pressures.”

It also appears to back a levy on aviation and maritime fuels. “Increasing from zero a tax on an activity that causes environmental damage is likely to be a more efficient way to raise revenue than would be increasing a tax that already causes significant distortion.”

“A globally implemented carbon charge of $25/tonne CO2 on fuel used could raise around $13bn from international aviation and around $26bn from international maritime transport in 2020, while reducing CO2 emissions from each industry by around 5 to 10%. Compensating developing countries for the economic harm they might suffer from such charges … seems unlikely to require more than 40% of global revenues. This would leave about $24bn or more for climate finance or other uses,” says the paper.

Last month, the UK shipping industry’s trade body roundly rejected calls to be brought into the EU’s carbon trading scheme, saying that any solution to reducing the industry’s emissions must be global.

Original Article

The truth about America’s oil & gas companies — Part II

By Brian Johnson

The United States oil and natural gas industry does not receive taxpayer-subsidized payments.

Given the recent publicity surrounding this issue, this statement may come as a surprise, yet it is 100 percent true. Also true is that the industry pays more than $86 million to the government every single day and has an effective income tax rate of 41 percent. Why then have so many readily bought the notion that the taxpayers are supporting this highly profitable industry?

A fundamental pillar of the U.S. income tax system is that businesses are taxed only on net income. This means that there needs to be some practical method for businesses to recover costs. There are many tax code provisions that allow companies to recover their costs, but tax deductions and cost recovery mechanisms should in no way be confused with subsidies.

For example, many inaccurately classify the ability to recover costs associated with drilling a well as some sort of unique subsidy for the industry. When companies drill, they incur intangible drilling costs, such as site preparation, labor, engineering and design. These “intangible” costs associated with drilling a well usually represent 60-80 percent of the cost of the well. Independent producers can deduct 100 percent of these costs in the year they occur while larger, non-independent companies can deduct 70 percent of the costs in year one and amortize the remainder over five years.

This is the same treatment afforded many different types of taxpayers. Small businesses can expense 100 percent of certain equipment costs and mining companies can deduct mine development costs. Further, research and development (R&D) costs incurred by industries such as biotech, pharmaceutical and software firms can be immediately expensed.

As is the case with research and development, oil and gas development is no sure thing. Despite great advances in technology, drilling a well is the only means to determine the actual presence of hydrocarbons in reservoir rock or sand. And when companies drill, they often rely on new and innovative methods. While these methods have led to the recovery of domestic reserves few thought possible a decade ago, they remain, essentially risky ventures.

Deductions allowed for the U.S. oil and natural gas industry are often more restrictive when compared with other industries. For example, in 2004, Congress enacted the Section 199 Domestic Manufacturers Deduction to spur job creation and retention for all businesses that grow, extract, produce and manufacture goods in the United States. Contrary to assertions, this is not a deduction unique to oil and natural gas manufacturing. It applies to all qualifying industries, from newspapers to home builders, electric companies to movie studios and — logically — oil and gas companies.

For most U.S. manufacturers, the deduction is 9 percent of their domestic net income. However, recent legislation has already penalized U.S. oil and natural gas companies by freezing their deduction at 6 percent.

It is misleading to say this deduction is a subsidy for one industry but a legitimate business deduction for other industries receiving the full amount. Those who argue that oil and natural gas companies are not entitled to the same tax considerations available to other industries ignore the substantial revenue generated by the oil and gas industry for federal and state governments. Every single day, U.S. oil and gas companies pay more than $80 million to the federal government in the form of rents, royalties, lease payments and income tax payments. This goes above and beyond motor fuel excise taxes or state income, property and severance taxes. And they ignore the fact that, since 2000, the industry has invested almost $1.7 trillion right here at home in U.S. capital projects to advance all forms of energy, including alternatives, while reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.

Making the false claim that the industry gets subsidies in order to tax it more has made little impression on voters. As indicated by a recent poll, 62 percent of more than 10,000 voters surveyed oppose efforts to increase taxes on the industry. Perhaps these voters understand something very basic that some politicians and pundits don’t: with some oil and natural gas companies bearing an effective tax rate of more than 40 percent and a real need to develop domestic reserves, policies to impose almost $90 billion in additional taxes do not make any sense.

Original Article

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