Koch propagandist attacks wind tax break; is mum on fossil fuel subsidies

Source: By Elliott Negin, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gall? Nerve? Chutzpah? Call it what you like, but Christine Harbin’s two recent anti-wind columns in The Hill are prime examples of Koch-funded dishonesty—and hypocrisy.

Harbin works for the Koch brothers-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP). As Hill readers may know, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch—owners of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries—have spent more than $79 million over the last two decades on AFP and dozens of other self-described “free-market” groups to spread disinformation about climate science and renewable energy.

In early December, when Congress was considering renewing a temporary tax break for the wind industry, Harbin’s first column denounced it as “corporate welfare.” “American taxpayers have seen very little return on our forced investment in wind energy over the past 20 years…,” she maintained. “Worse, decades on, the industry continues to lean on taxpayers and rely on special-interest, government giveaways.” Harbin also claimed congressional opposition to the wind production tax credit (PTC) was growing. As evidence, she cited a proposed House bill to eliminate the tax break co-sponsored by more than 50 lawmakers.

Besides the fact that a tax credit does not force taxpayers to “invest” in the wind industry, Harbin left out the fact that wind’s more-established competitors—particularly fossil fuels, the primary cause of climate change—enjoy permanent tax breaks and subsidies that are considerably larger. The oil and gas industry, for example, has been receiving an average of $4.86 billion in tax breaks and subsidies (in today’s dollars) every year since 1918. Harbin and other Koch-funded groups don’t complain about that particular special-interest, government giveaway.

Harbin also failed to mention that the anti-wind sentiment in the House was largely ginned up by Koch-funded lawmakers. Forty-six of the anti-PTC bill’s 53 co-sponsors received Koch campaign contributions over the last five years, and one of the bill’s original sponsors, Mike Pompeo from Wichita—Koch Industries’ hometown—gets more Koch money than anyone else in Congress.

Fortunately, Pompeo’s bill was rendered irrelevant by last-minute horse trading over the omnibus spending bill. Congress renewed and extended the wind PTC through 2019 in exchange for lifting the 40-year-old federal ban on oil exports, one of AFP’s other priorities.

Regardless, the deal didn’t sit well with Harbin. She followed up her December 7 column with one on January 9 that ominously warned that the PTC extension may be the beginning of even more government assistance to the wind industry. To her dismay, the federal Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from existing power plants, likely will encourage electric utilities to increase their wind power capacity, and she fears states will expand their own versions of the PTC as well as ratchet up standards requiring utilities to increase their use of wind, solar and other renewables.

Once again, Harbin misrepresented the facts. She claimed the Clean Power Plan “provides billions in subsidies to wind.” It doesn’t provide one penny. Likewise, she claimed state renewable electricity standards harm ratepayers. Her source? The Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute, which has a history of producing bogus analyses that the Union of Concerned Scientists and others have thoroughly debunked.

By contrast, a new study by a credible source—the Department of Energy (DOE)—concluded that the benefits of renewable standards that have been adopted by 29 states and the District of Columbia far outweigh their cost. In 2013 alone, the study found, renewables in states with a standard generated $7.4 billion in public health benefits and supported nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs. They also saved ratepayers as much as $4.9 billion by reducing the demand for—and lowering the price of—natural gas and other energy sources with higher operating costs.

Like state renewable standards, the PTC has played a key role in helping the wind industry gain a toehold in the U.S. energy mix. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the tax break has helped quadruple wind-powered electricity since 2008, from 16,700 megawatts to more than 70,000 MW at the end of last year, enough to power more than 19 million homes. It also has helped drive down the cost of wind power by 66 percent over the last six years, and Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas—Mike Pompeo’s state—now get more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind. Nine other states get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind, and another recent DOE report concluded that the United States should be able to generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030.

So the fact that Congress resurrected the PTC is a good thing, regardless of what fossil fuel industry-funded propagandists would like us to believe. If Harbin and her benefactors really cared about American prosperity, they would be calling for even more support for renewables—and for an end to all tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels.

Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.