by Richard W. Caperton
Yesterday, 47 United States Senators voted to kill 37,000 American jobs, while giving $24 billion in tax breaks to big oil companies. It’s clear where these Senators’ loyalties lie: They would rather give handouts to the dirty energy of the past rather than invest in the clean energy of the future.
In a largely party-line 51-47 vote (four Democrats side with Big Oil, and two Republicans side with clean energy), the Senate failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to move forward on the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act, sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
This bill would do two things: End several egregious subsidies to big oil companies, while extending industry-supporting incentives for clean energy. Among those incentives is the critical Production Tax Credit, which encourages investment in wind energy. As we’ve reported before, raising taxes on the emerging wind power industry by failing to extend this credit will kill 37,000 jobs. Indeed, we’ve already seen layoffs as manufacturing companies prepare for the worst.
Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), giving a perfect description of why the PTC should be extended, from a floor speech on Wednesday:
I’ve championed the wind energy tax credit as a way to provide a level playing field for a very clean, renewable resource. As a result, it has become – as a result, wind energy has become more efficient and cost-effective. The cost of wind energy has declined by 90% since the 1980’s. Wind has accounted for 35% of all new American electric generation in the last five years. Wind has already provided 20% of the electric generation in my state of Iowa. It supports as many as 5,000 good-paying jobs in our state. As a result of the tax incentive, the wind energy has actually created new manufacturing jobs in the United States. Today 60% of the wind turbines’ value is now produced in the United States, compared with just 25% six years ago. There are now 400 facilities building wind components in 43 states. That is why a bill in the House of Representatives to extend the wind energy production tax credit has 80 cosponsors, including 18 Republicans.
If we fail to extend the incentive, thousands of jobs will be lost in wind manufacturing industry. Unemployment remains high at 8.30%. Why would Congress exacerbate the unemployment in our country by failing to extend this successful incentive?
But, if you think this sounds like someone who would actually vote to extend the PTC, you’d be wrong. Grassley ignored his very own logic and revealed his true loyalties: Big Oil over clean energy.
This nonsense was bipartisan, too. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) had this to say about the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act:
My vote today was based largely on concerns over extending tax credits for a number of renewable technologies. Government should avoid picking winners and losers, and should allow the marketplace to work.
Wrap your head around that for a second. Senator Webb had two choices: Support Big Oil, or support clean energy. For all his tortured reasoning about allowing the marketplace to work, Webb can’t deny that he voted for $24 billion in tax subsidies to Big Oil companies.
Fortunately, former Virginia governor Tim Kaine – who’s running to replace Webb – has a much more reasonable view on this. As he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “By rejecting the effort to repeal billions in taxpayer funded giveaways to profitable oil companies, Republicans have again sided with special interests at the expense of Americans…. These subsidies, which have been consistently supported by my opponent George Allen, are unnecessary for the big five oil companies to turn a profit and do nothing to significantly lower the price of gas that Virginians pay when they fill up their tank…. Instead, today’s vote just ensures all Americans are double charged by the richest oil companies – once in their pocketbook at the pump, and again in their tax bill each year.”
Yesterday’s vote is an ominous sign about where the wind industry stands. It’s the second time in recent weeks that the Senate has voted against the PTC. On March 13, 49 Senators voted against clean energy. After that vote, we heard that some senators voted against it because the bill didn’t contain a way to pay for extending the tax credits. The Menendez bill addressed this concern by repealing subsidies to Big Oil, but only two more senators voted to support clean energy.
It’s clear that this is an uphill fight, and that elected leaders who have previously expressed support for clean energy – like Senator Grassley – need to be held to their word.
Richard W. Caperton is Director of Clean Energy Investment at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.