This week's most perplexing political flip-flop was Mitt Romney's announcement that he favors raising taxes on the wind industry. That's right, Romney is not only in favor of a tax increase on wind companies, he wants a tax increase so steep that everyone concedes it will be a major league job killer.
Romney's explanation was that he wanted to "create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits." Of course, when asked earlier in the year about proposed elimination of tax provisions favorable to the oil and gas industry, Romney was opposed. He claimed he didn't even know which tax breaks oil might get, even though his campaign was running political ads attaching President Obama's call to eliminate $4 billion of them. Since these ads carry, by law, the tag line, "I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this message" his refusal to confirm this stand when asked directly is more than tad weasley. (In case Romney has forgotten what he was talking about in the ad, the tax breaks in question include one that siphons money from the US Treasury directly to the governments of Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, and another that is explicitly allowed to all energy sources EXCEPT renewable ones.)
Nonetheless, Romney's chief energy campaign advisor, oil man Harold Hamm, commented, "The tax provisions that let us keep our own money to reinvest in drilling are crucial to keep this energy revival going,"
So Romney wants a level playing field - well, level for oil, gas and coal, and really, really rocky for everyone else. More bizarre, however, was that Romney ran his ads against the wind industry in Iowa, the state where the industry is strongest, generates more than 20% of the electricity, and employs more than 7000 workers. This led Republican Governor Terry Branstad to blame Romney's stand on his "east-coast" advisors and to say that Romney "needed to be educated." The same day Romney took his stand a new poll in Iowa showed that 59% of independents and 41% of Republicans would be likely to vote AGAINST a Presidential candidate who supported tax increases on wind.
That may be because the proposed tax increases on wind have already put 3000 of Iowa's 7000 wind jobs at risk. Nor did Iowa's senior Senator, Republican Charles Grassley, take kindly to Mitt's proposal to kill his state's biggest job creator --- Grassley calls himself the father of the pro-wind tax provisions, and initially claimed Romney must have been misquoted because he was "in Poland, not Iowa" when the news broke. A day later, with Grassley's support, the Senate Finance Committee voted, on bi-partisan lines, against the wind industry tax increase.
So perhaps you can take one state off your list of "too close to call battle grounds" in the Presidential race this November. President Obama is 7 electoral votes closer to re-election.
But what's strangest of all is that this business tax increase is being enthusiastically supported by folks like Chris Chocola of the Club for Growth. Tax increases, it turns out, are bad in Chocola's view, if they are for dirty sources of energy, but not for clean ones.
But the voice whose silence speaks the largest volumes in Grover Norquist, author of the infamous "I will never raise a tax" pledge. Norquist historically counts anything that raises taxes paid by business - even if it involves the elimination of a tax credit, like the Production Tax Credit for wind - as a violation of the pledge. So he ought to be pounding Romney for trying to kill jobs by raising taxes on wind. But so far - silence. (Norquist actually supported an earlier proposal to raise taxes on wind - but that one was tied to cutting taxes to other businesses, so at least it was consistent with Grover's stance.)
Once again, the Romney campaign and the hard-but-hired right are demonstrating that none of their values or principals can stand up against one simple fact: they are bought and paid for by coal and oil, by the economy of the past, and nothing else much matters.
A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber -- of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."
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