By Mitch Frankenberg
The number 2.2 billion is a number that everyone throughout North America should remember. 2.2 billion is the number of reasons why Vermont and land throughout the world is targeted for large scale buildouts of wind, solar, and gas. 2.2 billion symbolizes a primary and under-appreciated reason why all forms of taxes and costs of living throughout North America are escalating out of control. 2.2 billion. Write down this number and tell it to everyone you know.
According to the diligent work of an organization known as Good Jobs First, 2.2 billion is the number of dollars that the massive Spanish-owned conglomerate Iberdola received from American tax subsidies between 2009-2014. Iberdola is one of the world’s richest holding companies and it is a corporation that trades on the Madrid Stock Exchange. These facts merit repeating. By creating subsidiaries in America such as New England Wind, LLC and New York State Electric and Gas Co, Iberdola, a massive Spanish-owned corporation has received more than $2.2 billion in free welfare money that was paid for by you, me, and millions of American tax payers.
Please take a minute to let that sink in. $2.2 billion in free American money was given to a corporation that trades on the Madrid Stock Exchange.
To put the number $2.2 billion in proper context, from 2013-2014, FEMA paid out $840 million in flood claims. (Source: www.fema.gov.) Yet, inconceivably, the amount of money that the American government had spent to rebuild infrastructure for its own citizenry is less than 40 percent of the $2.2 billion in corporate welfare that was given to merely one Spanish-owned corporation.
Some so-called experts will argue that there are benefits to handing $2.2 billion in free money to developers of industrial energy. In fact, many politicians argue that giving $2.2 billion to corporations such as Iberdola will create more jobs, render clean energy, and will result in fewer disasters such as flooding.
But if we really pay attention to experts, we will finally see that the motivations for handing $2.2 billion to corporations like Iberdola are not to create jobs or generate clean energy. The single motivation for giving $2.2 billion to corporations such as Iberdola was clearly articulated by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, whose Berkshire Hathaway had collected the relatively paltry sum of $1.3 billion in corporate welfare since 2009.
According to a Wall Street Journal article from May 2014, CEO Buffet told his shareholders: “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate. For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
This is a wake-up call and blame is a fool’s game. Corporations are designed to exploit and profit from every possible source. That is what they do. Iberdola and Berkshire Hathaway are NOT accountable to taxpayers. They are accountable to their shareholders. As Warren Buffet clearly said, they will do “anything” that is covered by the law to reduce their tax rate. Included within the word “anything” is to manipulate American law-makers and the law itself.
But where corporations have no accountability to taxpayers, American government has mechanisms to protect and serve its people and the land. It is time for us all to first stop the blame and instead take meaningful action. Go back to your communities. Get involved in local and state government. If you see the absurdity of giving away $2.2 billion of your personal income to foreign corporations, then seek out political leaders who recognize the extreme dysfunction of the status quo. There are more than 2.2 billion reasons why industrial energy subsidies are destroying our social and ecological landscape. At the very least, convey the number 2.2 billion to everyone you know.
Mitch Frankenberg serves as a selectman in West Rutland, and is the author of the new book, “Twists, Turns, and Yellow Brick Roads: A Declaration of Independence, Empathy, and Self-Control.”