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Congressman says country must end oil industry tax breaks

Jan 8, 2008 - Mark Hollis - South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Palm Beach Gardens - U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney said Monday that Congress should take another stab this year at ending billions of dollars in oil-industry tax breaks and use the subsidies to fund research on renewable fuels.

Stepping into a political squabble between oil and farming interests, Mahoney said roughly $14 billion a year in subsidies to major oil companies are no longer needed, with oil producers enjoying record profits and oil prices exceeding $90 a barrel.

The Palm Beach Gardens Democrat represents a district stretching from Palm Beach to Charlotte counties where sugar and citrus farming is one of the biggest economic interests. He said the controversial tax breaks to oil drillers could pay to promote renewable fuels, such as solar and wind power, and also help develop better technologies for creating ethanol from citrus peels and pulp and sugar cane.

Speaking to a national bipartisan, alternative-energy group, Mahoney criticized oil industry supporters in Washington, D.C., for blocking efforts last year by Democrats in Congress to end the subsidies. Republicans have complained that such a move would force an increase in gasoline prices and create a so-called "slush fund" for alternative energy projects.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a version of an energy bill last year that eliminated the subsidies. But the Senate and President Bush refused to go along, and the president signed a bill in December that failed to end the tax breaks to oil companies.

"The energy bill that passed is not as good as we wanted it to be," Mahoney said. "A lot of the tax incentives that would have helped [the alternative energy] industry were stripped out. The subsidies to big oil companies will continue. But, hey, that's democracy."

Mahoney said he and some other House Democrats want Congress to pass this year, despite election-year distractions, a sequel to the energy bill that could end the oil industry tax breaks. "Act 2 of the energy bill," he said, "will be tops on our list."

Mahoney and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson addressed leaders of a group called "25x'25." It's a consortium of farming interests that has the goal of having agriculture generate roughly 25 percent of the nation's energy needs by 2025 through such technologies as converting citrus peels into ethanol.

The congressman said for America to wean itself from the dependence on both foreign-produced and all fossil fuels, which cause greenhouse gases that increase global warming, new technologies for converting farm products to fuel must be developed.

Mark Hollis can be reached at mhollis@sun-sentinel.com or 561-228-5512.

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