47 Senators Side With Big Oil And Vote To Kill 37,000 American Wind Jobs

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.


9 Responses to 47 Senators Side With Big Oil And Vote To Kill 37,000 American Wind Jobs

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Senators Who Voted To Protect Oil Tax Breaks Received $23,582,500 From Big Oil

    Isn’t this a crime, especially when looking at risk assessments – national security threats?

  2. Is it just me, or is there something totally weird going on with US politics?

    It seems US politics is becoming less and less about serving the people — or even pleasing the people.

    Instead, it seems to be more and more about throwing out distractions, misdirections, red herrings, and smoke bombs to confuse, hoodwink, and deceive the people.

    Sure, we think to ourselves, ‘the people don’t like giving more and more money to the filthy-rich 1%’, but then the same politicians who send money to the 1% just need to keep going ‘look, a squirrel!’ and in no time the public notices nothing but a whole lot of squirrels.

    — frank

  3. Sasparilla says:

    The only way, in my opinion, for the PTC to have a chance at getting renewed will be if it is attached clandestinely into a bill that the GOP wants for some reason (and there’d be a lot of push back to remove it there).

    The world in the Republican political environment is very different from what it was even 4 years ago. For the most part the GOP is at war with clean energy (just as the Koch’s have pushed the party towards, from within of course).

    To be fair this wasn’t a vote for or against the PTC though, it was a vote for or against the oil tax breaks and the oilies (including the Koch’s) spread their money well throughout the capital – I’d have been stunned if the oil tax break was voted out…in the end its not even close.

  4. Doug Bostrom says:

    I’ve read the Constitution backward and forward and nowhere do I see anything about how 40% constitutes a deciding majority in the Senate.

    Doesn’t work with arithmetic, either.

    Perhaps it’s time to put aside other issues and get rid of/massively circumscribe the filibuster? We’ve seen enough now to know that government by paralysis is not the way forward.

  5. Richard C says:

    Please note that a majority of Senators (not to mention the American people) favor the bill. Sixty votes are only necessary to overcome a threatened filibuster, which has become routine in the last two Congresses.

    There is nothing in the Constitution that requires a 3/5 majority to pass legislation in the Senate; on the contrary, requiring such a majority contradicts the democratic spirit of the Founders.

  6. M Tucker says:

    Majority of Americans want to end subsidies. The oil and gas industry is not a popular industry with average Americans. Economists on both political sides agree ending the subsidies would be a great idea. The industry does not need these subsidies in order to remain profitable. Even W (an oil man) said on April 14, 2005, when oil was only $55 per barrel, the subsidies are not necessary for exploration. Heck even five oil company executives said in hearings back in 2005 they do not need subsidies in order to explore for oil. Several Republican Senators have said in the recent past that subsidies should be ended. You should watch the clip from Maddow on 3/29. BUT this tax payer money clearly helps to finance Republican campaigns. Oil companies get the massive tax breaks and then “kickback” enormous amounts of money directly to Republican campaigns.

    I wonder how much these useless Democrats Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Jim Webb (D-VA) got for their vote? Forget about holding Grassley to his word. His word isn’t worth spit…Try money to get him to change his vote.

  7. Phil M says:

    Yes, their political funding depends on killing off the fossil fuel competition.

    Here in Australia, the Conservatives have just won state government in Queensland after 20 years and promised are systematically killing off any pro climate /environmental policies. Their largest funder is Clive Palmer, Queensland’s richest man & Coal tycoon.

  8. Craig says:

    Exactly. And I wish that reporters/bloggers/editors would stop writing pieces that take the filibuster for granted. Just look at the above post by Caperton:

    “the Senate failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to move forward”

    After reading that line, anyone not familiar with the filibuster would think that 60 votes is a constitutional requirement in the Senate.

  9. Nationalize the oil and the banks.

    My dad laughed when I gave the protagonist in my novel the mission of advocating for the nationalization of energy. I didn’t do it just to have the guy tilting at windmills. I believe that oil and both consumer and investment banking will be nationalized in the near future. The tipping point will come when even the 1% discovers that it’s not just a matter of ideology anymore. The rest of the world is nationalizing oil and finance. We can not compete on a global scale if we do not use the power of the federal government to counter the massive power of other governments. No matter how rich and powerful a few private individuals become, they can not compete with entire nations. The strategy of sending the military to take out foreign governments who dare to nationalize oil and other markets is not just immoral, it’s an unsustainable strategy that doesn’t work. It’s more humane AND more efficient to stop spending massive amounts of borrowed money on being the world market police and just nationalize US markets that have to compete with the nationalized markets of other nations.

    Author of The Firewall Sedition, a novel in the tradition of the progressive writers of the 1930s.