Key House Republican expresses support for extending wind tax credit

Source: John McArdle, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012

With the House set to begin debate today on a GOP energy package with no chance of advancing this Congress, a top House Republican is signaling his willingness to continue a key wind energy incentive that is set to expire Dec. 31.

At a National Journal-sponsored forum on energy policy, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California voiced support for extending the production tax credit (PTC) for wind.

Keeping the 2.2-cents-per-kilowatt-hour incentive is a priority for renewable energy advocates, but many worry that amid the partisan election-year battles and a busy lame-duck session, Congress may lack time and will to extend the credit.

“I think we should do it,” McCarthy said.

Asked whether he had communicated that position to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders, McCarthy said he had. But the lawmaker also offered no promises on what might come of those conversations.

McCarthy joked that he communicates on lots of issues, but “it doesn’t mean anyone listens.”

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), who leads the Ways and Means subcommittee with jurisdiction over the PTC and other so-called tax extenders, said yesterday that he and members of his staff are meeting with the wind industry on the credit. But he acknowledged the committee is still “a ways away from a decision” on how to move forward with legislation determining the extenders’ fate.

In the Senate, aides said Finance Committee members are continuing to meet this week on the PTC but a path forward remains unclear.

At the energy forum, President Obama’s top adviser on energy issues, Heather Zichal, lamented that congressional Republicans are choosing to spend time on efforts like the energy legislation that is hitting the House floor today rather than focusing on a bipartisan effort like the production tax credit.

The bill that is being debated today seeks to delay U.S. EPA rules on refineries, require new tracts to be opened to drilling if emergency reserves are tapped, reverse regulatory changes at the Interior Department instituted under Obama, and ease access for energy development on federal lands.

Democrats have called the package of seven bills an “oil industry wish list” that is a political messaging tool. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, though it seems unlikely to get that far with Democrats controlling the Senate.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t focus on those things that have broad bipartisan support and will actually move the agenda forward,” Zichal said today.

“You have the Chamber of Commerce, you have all the environmental community, you have Karl Rove, you have my boss supporting the extension of that tax credit,” she said. “We also know if we don’t get that extension, the wind industry faces a significant cliff and we’re going to see layoffs. We’re starting to see them today because of the uncertainty.”

Previous lapses in the PTC, which was first established in 1992, have caused deployment of wind turbines to virtually disappear, and industry backers say the economic pain would be even more acute this year because of significant growth in U.S.-based manufacturing of turbine components.

An extension is “the perfect example of what we can pass today, something we can do to ensure that America is leading the race to be the global leader in clean energy development,” Zichal said. “But Congress just hasn’t gotten it done.”

McCarthy seemed to acknowledge that today’s energy package of bills has little chance of passing both chambers of Congress.

Asked if any bills in the package could gain traction in the Senate, he said, “In a normal year I’d say yes, but I haven’t seen this Senate do anything.

But even if the bill stalls, McCarthy said, legislation on the floor today will play an important role in forcing the White House to join the debate on important energy issues.

“I think you have to have the debate,” McCarthy said. “Sometimes if you just start the debate, it works a lot better. The president comes out and [issues a veto] threat, he’s going to have to answer, what does he like? … Are we only going to talk about energy policy when the price spikes so high?”