Today, Members of Congress proposed a common sense solution to help families combat higher fossil fuel prices: a windfall profits tax on Big Oil. 

Here’s the idea. While millions of Americans are struggling to keep up with high prices at the pump and on their utility bills, oil corporations are bringing in record profits – profits they’re using to  pad the pockets of their CEOs and wealthy shareholders. This new legislation would tax those undeserved earnings and use the revenue to send a check to American families to help offset the costs of high energy prices. By making Big Oil pay a price for their greed, it’s a win-win for consumers and the climate.

The new Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax legislation was proposed by Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA17) in the house and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the Senate, where it was co-sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Bob Casey (D-PA). 

Here’s how Senator Whitehouse explains the bill in greater detail: 

The Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax would provide consumers guaranteed relief while maintaining American competitiveness and reducing pressure on inflation by attacking corporate profiteering. Under Whitehouse’s bill, large oil companies that produce or import at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day (or did so in 2019) will owe a per-barrel tax equal to 50 percent of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and the pre-pandemic average price per barrel between 2015 and 2019, a period when big oil companies were already earning large profits. The quarterly tax will apply to both domestically produced and imported barrels of oil to ensure a level playing field.

Smaller companies accounting for roughly 70 percent of the domestic production will be exempt, so oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron cannot simply gouge consumers further without the threat of losing market share.

Revenue raised from the windfall profits of big oil companies will be returned to consumers in the form of a quarterly rebate, which would phase out for single filers who earn more than $75,000 in annual income and joint filers who earn more than $150,000. At $120 per barrel of oil, the levy would raise approximately $45 billion per year. At that price, single filers would receive approximately $240 each year and joint filers would receive roughly $360 each year.

The windfall profits tax is a commonsense way to help Americans – especially low-income people – who are struggling with high fossil fuel prices by making oil corporations pay their fair share of taxes on these undeserved profits. 

Because let’s be clear: Big Oil isn’t making record profits through any innovation of their own. First, they throttled production to try and make back the money they lost during the Covid-19 pandemic, deciding it was more important to reward their shareholders with billions of dollars of stock buybacks rather than ensuring stable energy prices. Second, they’ve profited off the war in Ukraine, a crisis they helped create by working with Putin for decades to increase Russian oil and gas production, while lobbying against clean energy solutions here at home. Now they’re trying to exploit the tragedy in Ukraine to push for more drilling, more access to public lands, and more pipelines – all the things that would only deepen our dependence on fossil fuels and leave us victim to the volatility and instability they bring. 

Let’s call this what it is: Big Oil war profiteering. Which makes this new proposal not just a windfall profits tax, but really a windfall profiteering tax. 

The majority of Americans support an embargo on Russian oil and are willing to pay higher prices at the pump and on their utility bills if it can help the people of Ukraine, but we shouldn’t let Big Oil take advantage of that goodwill to make record profits. Instead, we should ask them to chip in. They’ll still be bringing home billions in profits – just a few fewer billion. We know they can afford it. 

The windfall profits tax isn’t the only thing we need to do to end our reliance on expensive, conflict-fueling, climate-destroying fossil fuels. This is a moment when we should be doing everything we can, from passing the Build Back Better Act to using the Defense Production Act to manufacture heat pumps. But the transition to clean energy will take time and Americans are feeling the pain of high prices right now while Big Oil is making billions. A windfall profits tax is a clear, immediate way to provide some relief by making oil corporations pay a small price on their profiteering. 

Congress should do the right thing and pass the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax right away.