Senate Dems push to tie green-power tax credits to transportation bill as ‘extenders’ window closes

Source: Elana Schor • E&E • Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Senate Democrats today plan to propose attaching a longer life for two tax credits hotly sought by renewable energy companies to a two-year transportation bill as the long-term fate of those “extenders” remains in limbo.

The two amendments pitched by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the transportation bill ahead of a Finance Committee markup set for this afternoon would extend the wind production tax credit until 2013 and revive a Treasury Department program that gave renewables producers grants in lieu of a tax credit before it expired at the end of last year.

The Democratic measures, co-sponsored by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), are part of a passel of amendments that the Finance panel is scheduled to consider today during its debate over $9.6 billion in offsets for a new transportation package (see related story)

Kerry said last night that his bid to extend the wind credit and the Treasury renewables program known as Section 1603 — which lost much of its political momentum following the collapse of government-backed solar firm Solyndra — would be offset in part by repealing oil and gas tax breaks targeted repeatedly by Democrats over the past year.

He added that Democrats would not abandon their search for a politically workable opening to extend the renewables credits. “We’ve got to get it done,” Kerry said. “I’ll take any vehicle we can get it done on.”

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is mounting a push to make a final payroll tax-cut and unemployment insurance package a vehicle to re-up some of the dozens of tax “extenders” that expired last year or are set to run out at the end of this year (E&E Daily, Feb. 1). But that effort faces already-apparent opposition from Republicans involved in the payroll tax talks as well as some Democrats who would rather see the negotiations not mire in partisan back-and-forth over energy credits.

“To the extent that there’s consensus in moving forward with some of the energy-related tax extenders” as part of the payroll tax and unemployment insurance plan before Congress’ deadline of Feb. 29, “that’s fine,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in an interview late last week.

But Van Hollen, who joins Baucus on the Democratic side of the aisle on the conference, added that lawmakers’ “priority needs to be” the Social Security tax relief, unemployment insurance extension and adjustments to Medicare payments.