A Maritime Lawyer, Percentage Depletion, and the JCT
This year marks the 90th anniversary of both the percentage depletion allowance and the Joint Committee on Taxation. This essay relates the curious tale of Norman Beecher, a New York maritime lawyer with little background in energy, natural resources, or tax, who convinced Congress in 1918 to adopt a tax proposal that helped lead to both of these important features of the tax system eight years later. While Beecher’s idea ended up providing a major tax break for the oil and gas industry, this essay presents evidence that the source of the proposal was Beecher himself, and not the industry, as a result of his misunderstanding of the proposal’s tax effect. Since the conditions especially favorable to enactment of the proposal were very short-lived, this essay offers the intriguing possibility that but for Beecher (or his misunderstanding), the tax system might never have included percentage depletion or, conceivably, the Joint Committee.