House Democrats are ratcheting up pressure to insert financial help for clean energy into any upcoming bills to try to aid the pandemic-ravaged sector, setting up a clash with GOP lawmakers who’ve so far derided attempts to aid renewables as a furtive bid to implement the Green New Deal.
Clean energy groups say the sector has shed 600,000 jobs since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and they are increasingly leaning on their Democratic allies in Congress to deliver assistance beyond the Paycheck Protection Program and small business loans that have already been rolled out.
Despite Democratic leadership in the House opting against previous proposals, supporters like Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), chief deputy whip, told POLITICO that Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) had expressed his intention to include language to extend renewable energy tax credits into legislation moving through the chamber.
“We’re going to have other opportunities to get things included. We’ll have other bills,” said Kildee, a member of the Ways and Means panel. “I can’t say specifically when because I just don’t have a good answer to that question at this point in time, other than there are a lot of members on the committee who are anxious to see this happen and I know the chairman is interested in getting it done.”
A spokesperson for the committee said Neal is “intent on moving legislation related to green energy and efficiency in tandem with the Congress’ efforts on infrastructure,” and that the effort would begin with a discussion draft of clean energy tax credits.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, said he was convinced House leadership would include help for the sector in upcoming legislation.
“There’s a challenge here for us – in a comeback – not to just let it happen but to orchestrate it and to design it,” he said in a Friday interview. “It’s an opportune time to take the crisis and work it into an opportunity.”
The push from rank-and-file Democrats that had been done behind closed doors previously has started to spill into the open. Dozens of Democrats urged leaders to prioritize the clean energy sector in a letter spearheaded by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tonko, which drew a statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that clean energy should “be a major focus of our recovery.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, is circulating a letter, obtained first by POLITICO, calling on House Democratic leaders to allow renewable energy tax credits to be received as a direct payment, a key change sought by the industry since the tax credits have little value as companies rack up losses during the economic downturn. And it calls for lengthening the phase-out period for the tax incentives, since the Production Tax Credit for wind power developers sunsets at the end of this year and the solar Investment Tax Credit will be eliminated for residential systems and decline by more than half for large installations in 2022.
“This industry needs economic relief, and Congress must act soon,” the letter says. “Investments in clean energy pay back dividends because of the breadth and geography that are impacted – either job losses will devastate the communities we represent, or economic relief for this sector will help them weather this crisis.”
Democratic Reps. Nanette Barragán and Jared Huffman of California, Alcee Hastings of Florida, Chellie Pingree of Maine and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan are circulating “a green stimulus framework letter” with an eye toward releasing it in late June, according to Barragán’s office. The efforts are especially encouraging, several in the environmental community said, as the letters came about organically without a nudge from the industry.
But Republicans remain skeptical of any push to aid the sector. Senate Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) denounced an infrastructure framework put out by House Democrats, seen as a possible vehicle for the aid, as “a laundry list of liberal priorities” and “a second ‘Green New Deal’” in an op-ed.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, top Republican on the House Climate Crisis Committee, said efforts to aid the clean energy sector were an “incredibly tone deaf move or priority right now.”
“Here you have one of the worst economic recessions,” he said. “And folks are out there prioritizing distorting markets for a technology that they have all repeatedly on record been saying that these are cost competitive.”
Graves dismissed his party’s invocation of the Green New Deal as “messaging crap” but said the pursuit of clean energy is “from a policy perspective, I just think that it’s the wrong move.” He said Democrats must at minimum advance a strategy for making the U.S. renewable energy manufacturing supply chain less reliant on Chinese rare earth and strategic minerals if they seek those investments.
Even though Democrats have not cited the Green New Deal resolution in their push for industry support, many Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly brought up the plan issued last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that seeks a speedy overhaul of the U.S. economy to fight climate change.
“The Green New Deal would kill our country,” Trump said Friday at the White House. “It’s impossible for them to do it. If you ever look at what they want to do under the Green New Deal, it’s like baby talk.”
Still, some clean energy groups have been encouraged by a recent request from three Republicans – Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine – seeking additional relief from the Trump administration for renewable energy companies. Part of the reason for their call may be because job losses in clean energy have put tens of thousands of people out of work in several of the redder states, like Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, according to industry group estimates.
Other Republicans, like New York Rep. Tom Reed, a senior member of Ways and Means, have joined the calls for more flexibility in the tax credits, though Reed was unsure if any assistance could come with infrastructure or other coronavirus relief bills.
“I do believe there is a bipartisan package, put together here with regards to extending the Investment Tax Credit and the Production Tax Credit when it comes to the alternative renewable space, in particular wind and solar as well as geothermal and others. But you know I’m strongly advocating for an expansion of this tax policy to include all technology,” he said. “I’m not looking to cut off those existing tax credit policies that are there.”
Evergreen Action, a collection of former staffers on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign, has released its own plan outlining ways for Democrats to boost clean energy as part of recovery. They’ve briefed House and Senate Democratic leadership on their proposals and did the same with the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition on Friday.
“You’re seeing champions for clean energy step up and really call on their own leadership to step up here,” said Sam Ricketts, the group’s co-founder and senior policy adviser. “We’re going to keep beating the drum.”