64 mayors press Congress for clean energy aid

Source: By Peter Behr, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2020

A coalition of 64 U.S. mayors has written Congress urging lawmakers to keep clean energy tax incentives at the top of economic recovery strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If the future of energy lies in green technology, I think we need to be doing everything we can to catalyze that process,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in a statement released by Environment America, an advocacy group that circulated the letter. Suarez cited surveys showing broad public support for continued clean energy tax incentives. “Our members of Congress were elected to represent our interests, it’s as simple as that,” he added.

A large number of mayors around the country signed clean energy agendas when President Trump announced the United States would exit from the global Paris climate agreement three years ago. Some issued “We Are Still In” pledges to follow the pact’s goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Another organization, Climate Mayors, grew to over 430 cities. Mayors have lobbied Congress doggedly for clean energy support (E&E Daily, Jan. 20).

The message has become ensnarled, however, in the economic devastation due to the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown actions, which have battered city budgets. A bipartisan group of economists warned Congress in June that states and cities needed $1 trillion in additional aid and that layoffs of government workers could reach 3 million next year.

The signers of yesterday’s letter stuck to a clean energy formula, calling on lawmakers to extend energy tax credits for solar and wind power investments, to expand support for electric vehicle infrastructure and energy efficiency programs, and to create credits for energy storage.

The mayors came from cities of all sizes, from Pittsburgh and Houston to Norfolk, Neb., and Carmel, Ind. Some, like Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard, are Republicans. Most are Democrats, said Ben Sonnega, a spokesman for the campaign.

The city leaders had hoped to pressure Congress to include clean energy tax incentives in COVID-19 relief packages. But stalled negotiations on pandemic aid between House and Senate leaders, coupled with Trump’s salvo of executive orders, seem certain to sideline energy tax debates until next year and the possible introduction of a big infrastructure investment and economic recovery bill, some Capitol Hill sources said.

“We were hoping we would be talking about recovery by now,” Sonnega said. “Unfortunately, we’re not.”

Mayors’ unity could be tested further next year if presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is elected and pushes for accelerated congressional action on his pledge to move the United States to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035.

The fastest path toward such a big ramp-up of zero carbon electricity could point a Biden administration toward strategies with potential rapid, large impacts, such as investing in offshore wind development, small-scale nuclear reactors and long-distance transmission line projects linking renewable energy resources with cities.

The initiatives most directly under a mayor’s control are at a grassroots level, such as electric vehicle infrastructure, home weatherization and building efficiency upgrades through local code changes — strategies that aim at greenhouse gas reduction from energy use.

Most mayors have little leverage over direct expansion of zero-carbon electricity unless they create power purchasing programs. Pittsburgh, for example, has set citywide goals of cutting carbon emissions from 2003 levels by 50% by 2030, a program that includes switching all municipal buildings to renewable energy by joining a western Pennsylvania wholesale power supply cooperative (Energywire, May 1).

Mayors’ ability to move the needle dramatically on clean energy depends greatly on federal and state policies affecting the power grid, Carlos Martín, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told E&E News earlier this year. “Those have to be aligned” with city strategies, he said.