Oil spills are very expensive to clean up, but the next disaster could be even worse because a tax that was created in 1986 was allowed to expire when Republicans cut taxes for Corporate America last month.
The tax on companies selling oil in the United States generated an average of $500 million in federal revenue per year, according to the Government Accountability Office. The money, collected through a 9 cents-per-barrel tax on domestic crude oil and imported crude oil and petroleum products, constituted the main source of revenue for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
The fund has roughly $5.7 billion in reserve. Intended to help the government respond quickly to accidents on land or offshore, it was established in 1986 but only got a stable source of funding in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
You could say it's good news that the trust fund has $5.7 billion in reserve, but how long will that last? How long will that last if there's another Deepwater Horizon or worse? How long will that last if Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are able to open up virtually all coastal waters to oil drilling?
The Washington Post reports that congressional Republicans are considering renewing the tax in a low-key bill that would revive several other taxes, but I would be truly astonished if that happens. It seems far too easy for them to simply let it lapse and say the fund has plenty of money in it already. Why would they renew it now?