Mixed signals on energy incentives in tax bill

Source: Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol yesterday sent mixed signals on whether there would be a separate tax extenders package to address outstanding questions about energy incentives.

Senate Finance Committee Republicans punted on a number of energy issues last month during their markup on the tax code overhaul, saying they’d look to the familiar year-end ritual of trying to sort them out through a so-called extenders bill (E&E News PM, Nov. 15).

However, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said yesterday he preferred to avoid such legislation.

“I’m hopeful not, but we’re going to have those discussions with the Senate,” Brady told E&E News when asked about his expectations for extenders.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a former Finance Committee chairman and senior member of the panel, said yesterday there has been “no discussion on that since we reached an agreement before our committee meeting that that’s what was going to happen.”

He added, “The trouble is promises are cheap in this town.” Leaders pushing tax reform have made a number of promises that remain in limbo.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of leadership and Finance, said he believed there will be an extenders package, “hopefully” before the end of the year.

He suggested one legislative vehicle for the package could be the expected upcoming continuing resolution needed to carry government spending through the new year.

Republicans, however, continue to debate the duration of the stopgap measure that will be needed to prevent a government shutdown Friday night (see related story).

“There’s a number of things that have to get done that we’d like to get wrapped up before the end of the year and start with a clean slate next year,” Thune said.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, declined to comment on whether he’s spoken with Republicans about extenders.

He noted the irony, however, that the topic was being discussed, given that broad tax reform has been cited for years as the solution to the annual fight over extending numerous tax breaks.

“I’m not surprised given all of the other problems we’ve seen that stem from reckless haste and the unwillingness to walk down the corridor in the Dirksen building and work with people to get it right,” Wyden told reporters.

Senate conferees coming

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday the Senate will vote to go to conference with the House on the tax overhaul this week.

Grassley slammed the House bill for cutting the value of the renewable production tax credit that has benefited wind, as well as for adding new construction requirements for qualifying for the break.

“That’s got to be straightened out,” he told reporters. “I would think they’d be embarrassed even putting it in. It’s the only part of the House tax bill that in a forward way changes deals that are already made, the only provision in that great big bill.”

Grassley noted that as a nominee in January, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed with him that there should be “transition rules” in every major tax bill.

Since both the PTC and investment tax credit for solar were already slated to sunset in 2020 and 2021 under a 2015 tax deal, Grassley recalled asking Mnuchin in a private meeting and later in the Finance Committee, “We don’t need to do anything, do we?”

Grassley indicated he’ll continue pushing a fix in conference for the Senate bill’s Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) provisions, which renewable interests say will stifle foreign investments in U.S. energy projects by subjecting them to a 100 percent tax.

However, Grassley said the “biggest focus” will be on the Senate’s decision to retain the corporate minimum tax, which has compounded the effect of the BEAT provisions on renewable interests, as well as a host of other industry sectors (Climatewire, Dec. 5).

Solid ANWR support seen

Newly appointed House conferees said the prospects for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling are strong in conference.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a conferee, said he expects the language opening the area to energy companies will remain in the final product.

“I have been asking for ANWR for a long, long time, and so have most rational people,” he told reporters yesterday.

Bishop was asked whether the appointment of Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young to the conference committee bolstered the odds the ANWR provisions remaining in the final version.

“The rest of us are as committed to going that way, with or without Rep. Young there,” he replied, adding that the Alaskan, who has long championed energy development in ANWR’s 1002 area, “by all rights ought to be part of that discussion.”

The Utah Republican also noted that Young, who is chairman emeritus of the Natural Resources panel, is the most senior member of the committee.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) was included on the conference committee because of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction over the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The tax bill proposes some stockpile sales as a way to offset costs.

Shimkus said he was unconcerned by the opposition of the dozen House GOP moderates, who he said yesterday “understand there’s a lot bigger things for moderates to be worried about in this tax debate versus this.”

Reporter Kellie Lunney contributed.