During the ongoing debate surrounding the fiscal cliff, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy was on the brink. Although the PTC has traditionally been supported by a wide bipartisan majority in Congress since being enacted by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, incentives for clean energy -- and the PTC in particular -- were turned into a political football during the last election. It seemed for a time that this vital tax incentive would fall victim to political games and be brought to an end this year.
That would have been catastrophic for the wind industry, which is an important part of our nation's clean energy sector and our economy. The wind industry now supports over 75,000 jobs, but it had began to suffer in recent months because the PTC was in limbo. The American Wind Energy Association has estimated that letting this tax credit expire would cost a staggering 37,000 jobs nationwide.
But the last-minute deal to delay the fiscal cliff included good news for our nation's wind energy sector. The bipartisan compromise extended tax credits that encourage the production of clean domestic energy, including a provision to extend the PTC for wind projects that begin construction by the end of 2013. This extension not only averts layoffs, it's a positive sign that members on Capitol Hill may be leaving campaign rhetoric behind and governing in a way that recognizes the importance of the wind energy sector.
The deal also delayed -- but unfortunately did not eliminate -- painful cuts to environmental programs for two months. Although they make up just 1.25 percent of the national budget, they were to be slashed even further under sequestration. This would have meant starving our National Parks of funding, cutting programs for clean energy research and innovation, undermining efforts to clean up contaminated waterways, and ending programs that support more than 130 National Wildlife Refuges.
Unfortunately, the deal didn't bring an end to taxpayer-funded subsidies for Big Oil. Every year, we send the oil industry $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies despite being some of the most profitable companies on the face of the planet. If Congress had ended these handouts as part of the fiscal cliff compromise, it could have brought in $40 billion in revenue over the next decade alone.
We shouldn't let the successes in the compromise distract us from the work ahead. Under the deal, Congress will once again consider cuts to environmental programs in the coming weeks and will have another opportunity to end the handouts to Big Oil. We need constituents across the country to tell their members of Congress to work with the president to develop a long-term solution to our fiscal challenges that defends environmental programs and invests in our clean energy future.