Blumenauer, Markey Introduce Bill to Close Big Oil Tax Loophole

March 8, 2021
Press Release
Legislation would reverse IRS ruling that allowed tar sands oil producers to avoid paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Unlike other types of oil, tar sands oil is currently exempt from taxes used to fund the clean-up of oil spills. Today, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) reintroduced bicameral legislation to close that unfair tax loophole and ensure Big Oil pays its fair share into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

“Big Oil already gets billions of dollars in taxpayer support every year that they do not need,” said Rep. Blumenauer. “The facts are clear: we are in a climate emergency and must take action. It is past time we hold fossil fuel polluters accountable for the impact they have on the environment. Tar sands oils are one of the dirtiest forms of oil and should not be given special treatment.”

"We cannot allow any oil company to evade the bill for spills. For far too long, American taxpayers have borne the burden of mass oil spills along our coasts, waterways, and farmlands, while tar sands companies walk away scot-free," said Senator Markey. "The dirtiest fuels must have the strictest requirements, not the largest regulatory loopholes. We need to close this tax loophole for tar sands and make sure every Big Oil company pays for their clean-up costs.”

Authorized by Congress in 1990, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund makes resources available to pay for the immediate costs of cleaning up oil spills. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling concluding that oil derived from tar sands is not considered crude oil and therefore is not subject to the excise tax that goes into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. In addition to creating a substantial tax loophole, this ruling resulted in an unequal playing field where certain forms of oil extraction are not paying their fair share for the cost of oil spills.

The Tar Sands Tax Loophole Elimination Act, reintroduced today in both chambers of Congress, would close the tax loophole by adding oil derived from tar sands and oil shale to the definition of crude oil, thereby restoring original congressional intent and requiring oil companies pay the full excise tax into the trust fund.

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund’s revenue source is a nine cents per barrel excise tax on crude oil and petroleum products. In 2017, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that eliminating this tax loophole would generate approximately $665 million in revenue over 10 years.

The legislation is supported by 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Zero Hour, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

In addition to Blumenauer and Markey, the legislation is supported in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Bernard Sanders (I-VT). In the House, the legislation is supported by Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), along with Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-CA) and Dan Kildee (D-MI).

A copy of the legislation is available here.