Bioenergy, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Hydropower, Solar, Wind Power

Fuming in DC: Time to Draw the Line

Congress just adjourned for the Rosh Hashanah holiday and we in the clean energy industries are without a tax credit extension. And I am hopping mad, as Congress will soon adjourn for the national elections.

The Senate passed with 88 votes a renewable energy extender bill (yes, it does include oil shale). And they selected certain offsets that The White House has publicly stated the President would sign if passed by the Congress. Senate Majority leader Reid, along with Democratic Senators Cantwell (D-WA), Salazaar (D-CO), and Baucus (D-MT) along with Republican Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Ensign (R-NV) deserve much of the credit making this outcome happen. The bill included all the renewables and key efficiency applications adding small wind, ground-coupled heat pumps, combined heat and power and water energy (tidal, wave, ocean currents and thermal), and sustained an 8-year time period for solar.  

The House then passed a renewable energy tax credit extension bill, but again, paid for these tax credit incentives using offsets regarding the treatment of hedge fund income and tax changes on oil companies that have continually evoked threats of a White House veto. Senate Republicans and a few Senate Democrats have also vowed to kill such offsets. Unfortunately, House Democratic leaders have used these offsets to “throw sand in the eyes of the Republicans” during the political silly season of this Presidential election year. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has whined that our incentives need to be paid for — but has he offered any offsets that could be accepted by the Bush Administration, Senate Republicans or oil-state Democrats? No.

That really draws my ire. While candidate Barak Obama has rightly attacked John McCain for not voting for renewable energy — back in Washington, the Democratic leadership in the House won’t find new acceptable offsets that can quickly pass.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t care about hedge fund managers or oil company tax breaks, and would support their scale back as good public policy. But if it means that we’re unable to have any clean energy tax incentives, I would drop these proposed House offsets like a hot potato. Leadership requires priority setting and compromise, and we know the jobs studies have shown that somewhere between 100,000 – 200,000 U.S. clean energy jobs are at stake at a time when the economy is in a meltdown.

You would think after my nine years as a U.S. Senate staffer and 25 years as a clean energy lobbyist, I would be used to these shenanigans. But frankly, I’m not, because the fight is not over policy. Both parties want the renewable energy tax credits extended and have agreed on a remarkably similar set of policies. The only disagreement is over the kind of offsets used to pay for the credits. The ten-year, US $17 billion price of these credits may sound big — but compared with the rest of the multi-trillion dollar budget, it’s peanuts. It represents less than two months of funding for the Iraq War.

The four national renewable energy trade associations representing the geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind industries issued a joint statement to Congress on September 29th, saying, “with hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in clean energy investment at risk, we urge Congressional Leaders not to leave for the election recess until a House-Senate agreement is reached on the pending tax extender package.” I couldn’t agree more.

But now it’s your turn — and I hope you are more emphatic in telling Congress that its inability to find acceptable new offsets shows an unacceptable lack of responsibility. The House Democratic leadership must be convinced that compromise is essential and stallwalling is not tolerable.

The national trade associations are extremely wary of getting into the bicameral crossfire, but the rest of us should not be. It is time to call the local offices of your Democratic representatives and demand they solve the problem and pass this bill. While they are all in angst over the US $700 billion bill to salvage Wall Street and will consider this “no win” vote as soon as they return — they should damn well focus on a US $17 billion bill that creates jobs, offsets America’s hemorrhaging energy imports and begins to level greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change. These factors are an extremely important part of the nation’s economic health.

Don’t be shy and don’t be tolerant of this weak action — demand high expectations that they act for the country and not fall to the inside game of Washington politics.