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Wind lobby strives to adapt to Tea Party era

The Tea Party has weakened the clout of the wind lobby, and imperiled the industry’s prized political possession – a billion-dollar “Production Tax Credit.”

Leaked documents show how the lobby is trying to adapt to Republican power.

The American Wind Energy Association’s 2011 annual report and related documents were quietly posted on the Internet last week by a wind power opponent upset by windmills’ negative impact on birds. The documents show the lobby’s efforts to frame its opponents as tax hikers, and to use opposition research against subsidy critics, some of whom it classifies as “libertarian free-market fundamentalists.”

One of AWEA’s strongest responses to the 2010 GOP takeover of the House was to hire Republican strategist Mike Murphy, whose past clients include John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Murphy’s Revolution Agency came on to help with AWEA’s top legislative priority: extending the federal Production Tax Credit for renewable energy. The PTC reduces a windmill owner’s corporate income tax by 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour generated.

“AWEA’s message and champions have largely resided on the left,” the Revolution Agency stated in a strategy memo included in AWEA’s 2011 annual report. So the 2010 elections required AWEA to “pivot” from “green energy and Obama to jobs, manufacturing, business investment, and Conservative Republicans,” while still “taking care not to erode base support from the left.”

One core problem, the memo explained: The “debt-strapped, partisan, and Tea Party-infused Congress is reflexively skeptical of subsidies and many outside the windy red states have an inherently negative sentiment toward renewable energy.”

So how do you convince fiscally conservative Republicans to preserve a subsidy for green energy? “The campaign must define the failure to reauthorize the PTC as a tax hike with resulting negative implications for American jobs,” Murphy’s agency explained.

For instance, Revolution agency suggested AWEA give out a “Taxpayer Protector Award” to congressmen backing the credit. Murphy’s group also suggested “reaching out to a credible conservative tax advocate voice like Grover Norquist,” president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Norquist has recently opposed the abolition of some special energy tax credits. But he and ATR endorsed legislation last year that would end all energy tax credits, including the PTC, because it would also lower rates. Norquist told me Thursday that he hadn’t heard from AWEA on the PTC.

To persuade the grassroots, Murphy and his colleagues suggested advertising on sites such as RushLimbaugh.com, Hannity.com, GlennBeck.com, and FoxNews.com.

Winning over Republican staff would not be easy, Revolution warned. “Among the GOP staffers, there is a strong ideological tilt and they’re inclined to view renewable energy with skepticism.” Specifically, Murphy’s agency instructed AWEA not to pit wind energy against fossil fuels. One reason: “Fossil fuels and coal have spent so much time and money programming these Staffers.”

Tapping the Republican revolving door has been a big part of AWEA’s campaign. The annual report noted that the group hired lobbyist and former Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery, who was the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee until the 2008 election. AWEA also hired Maggie Lemmerman, a former Republican congressional aide, to lobby House Republicans, according to the annual report.

The rollout of the PTC-renewal legislation must be carefully plotted, the AWEA report stated. Reauthorization should first come up in the GOP-controlled House, with at least one-third of its original co-sponsors being Republican, the AWEA report explains.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, who has sponsored PTC renewals in the past, was portrayed as AWEA’s prime target. McCarthy has conservative credibility, and if it got him on board, AWEA felt it would have better luck getting the support of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. AWEA explained its strategy as “providing political cover to Senator Grassley by recruiting House leadership to sponsor version of PTC extension in that chamber.”

As of May 4, however, McCarthy is not a co-sponsor of the House bill, HR 3307, reauthorizing the PTC.

AWEA won’t convince everyone, and that’s where opposition research comes in. The public affairs department in 2011 “identified sources of opposition in [the] anti-wind libertarian, free-market fundamentalist echo chamber,” the annual report explains.

I asked AWEA just who was on the “anti-wind libertarian, free-market fundamentalist” list. They didn’t tell me.

AWEA plans “continued deployment of opposition research through third parties to cause critics to have to respond,” the battle plan states. In other words: When people attack AWEA’s subsidies, AWEA might feed an unflattering story on that person to some ideological or partisan media outlet or activist group.

AWEA’s tactics aren’t out of the ordinary for Washington. And given that the tax credit is worth an estimated $1 billion a year in tax savings, you can’t blame them for trying so hard to save it.