A quick and dirty education in fossil fuel subsidies

How much do you know about energy subsidies? National Geographic has a really interesting quiz that covers some of the basics, as well as a few interesting background details. Here's one freebie: The first fossil fuel subsidy in America was instituted by George Washington. It was a 10% tariff on imported coal, aimed at making American coal competitive in comparison to British coal. (Via Matt McDermott)


  1. One of the most compelling graphics I’ve seen showing just how skewed the scales are in favor of fossil-fuel subsidies comes from Scott Sklar. He uses the graphic frequently; this instance was at last year’s EPA-CHP partnership meeting. Scroll down the presentation about half-way, to the 10th slide: http://www.epa.gov/chp/documents/meeting_100511_sklar.pdf

    Moderator note: Please do not ever mask a link to a pdf with a URL shortener again.

  2. Don’t tell conservatives about the subsidies – they’ll just argue to reduce clean energy subsidies in order to increase oil subsidies so oil companies can drop prices by .05%.

  3. While the IEA has subsidies in its sights, for poor citizens of oil-producing states, low fuel prices are often the most high visibility impact on their lives from the natural resource wealth.

    For instance, at the beginning of the year Nigeria tried to cut subsidies entirely and start charging actual world prices for fuel. The result – which was pretty much a doubling of the price – led to widespread disorder and the effort was eventually dropped. Cutting subsidies is going to be a slow process, research from the AfDB suggested, I think, increasing prices by 5-10% per year. That’s about how much pain the consumers can take at the pump.

    The example that shows how to drop subsidies is, interestingly, Iran.

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