Pew Subsidyscope launches energy subsidy module

Natural gas fracking well in Louisiana, (c) 2013 Daniel Foster

Congratulations to the Marcus Peacock's team at Subsidyscope (and, to Kevin Webb's group at the Sunlight Foundation -- they have also played an instrumental role), for the launch of their energy subsidy module yesterday.

The energy sector is the fourth module to be completed by Subsidyscope.  Earlier releases have included a review of subsidies in the financial bailout, transport subsidies, and subsidies to non-profit institutions.  Support for housing, and cross-cutting work on integrating data on tax expenditures are currently underway.

Because government involvement with energy cuts across so many agencies and activities, tracking energy subsidies has been a challenging task.  Inevitably, not everything could be addressed in the first go, and some of the issues they hope to address in the coming months are summarized here.  As programs are added, expect susidy numbers to rise substantially.  Better resolution on accelerated depreciation benefits, impacts of purchase mandates such as the Renewable Fuel Standards, and excise tax exemptions (they've focused on income taxes initially) will each add billions of dollars per year.SSegy

In my role as an external advisor to this project over the past few years, I've been struck by a couple of things about Pew's engagement with the subsidy issue.  First, they have been willing to tackle a set of very complicated policy areas recognizing full well that complete exposition of sector subsidies would need to be built gradually over time.  This iterative approach is something that the G20 fossil fuel subsidy reform effort will likely need to embrace as well. 

Second, due to their scale and contacts, Pew has been able to engage directly with key officials in relevant government agencies in order to expand the available information set on subsidy programs.   This is quite important, and something that I hope will succeed in permamently changing the way some of this information is compiled and released.  Over the long-term, more timely, comprehensive, and comparable data sets in areas such as federal tax expenditures, credit, and insurance subsidies alone would have immense value in improved governance and economic efficiency.