This is a guest column from my colleague Dave Hamilton, director of clean energy for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.
Believe it or not, there was a day when the Production Tax Credit for clean, renewable energy was not a partisan issue. When it cleared the House Ways and Means Committee in 1992, it was with a strong bipartisan majority. Then, clean energy was not perceived in Congress an us-versus-them issue. There was broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that developing new, cleaner energy industries would begin to level the playing field among energy sources and create more choices for consumers. It was described as good for the environment, the economy, and the nation as a whole. Members of both parties jockeyed to get projects and factories in their districts.
Alas, those days are gone, even if the benefits are not. Now there is a crusading right-wing that is happy to take fossil fuel money hand over fist and be the spear tip for that industry's efforts to sabotage its growing clean energy competition. Most Republican members of Congress are now under great pressure from the big polluters who are their big money campaign donors to actively oppose clean energy industries that have been an agent of economic growth in the nation generally and in rural Republican districts specifically.
Renewable energy is growing fast, fast enough to make some utilities, coal companies, oil and gas barons, (and some particular Koch brothers) pretty nervous about the future viability of their product.
But to be realistic, the profits raked in by many of these billion-dollar companies have never been higher. Yet, the Kochs are using their so-called Americans for Prosperity front group and its dozens of affiliates to attack federal and state laws that have brought wind and solar energy forward from infancy to create tens of thousands of jobs and power millions of homes and businesses. Whether their target is state renewable portfolios standards, energy efficiency standards, net metering laws, or incentives like the PTC, the bottomless pockets of the Koch brothers are working overtime to obliterate clean energy.
Even in 2012, the PTC benefited from a strong nucleus of support from House Republicans. But still, the credit expired again this past December 31. Today, because of the shade thrown on the wind industry by the fossil giants, more and more Republicans appear to be afraid to voice their support for the incentive even when there are serious megawatts or wind energy jobs in their very own district. Why face a reprimand from the Koch enforcers when you can just lay low, keep your head down, and weather the storm? What's the demise of a few small businesses and jobs in the district?
Well, it's a lot. Clean energy means jobs. It means safer air and water. And it means less climate-disrupting carbon pollution pumped into our air. That"s why the Sierra Club is kicking off its campaign to shine a light on a number of Representatives that have a wind industry presence in their districts and states, but apparently remain content to put those jobs and assets at risk with their silence on whether or not they support the renewal of the PTC. In some places, it's a handful of jobs in supply chain parts manufacturers, small but important cogs in a manufacturing industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs nationwide. In other areas, the economic footprint is enormous. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas has more than 4300 megawatts of wind in his district with thousands of supply chain jobs and tax base that funds schools and community infrastructure. Yet those constituents don't seem to merit his support.
Most of the members in question have not even weighed in on the Ways and Means tax reform proposal released by outgoing Chairman Dave Camp that would actually take money back from projects that have not yet run the course of eligibility for the credit. It's one thing to say that one is willing to kill the growth of one of the few manufacturing industries in the U.S. that has grown quickly since 2007, it's another to remain silent while the government yanks back resources that were promised in good faith to American companies and communities. Would the oil and gas industry allow that silence if the tables were turned?
There has been plenty of opportunity to support the PTC since it expired on New Year's Eve. Conservative Rep. Steve King, with whom the Sierra Club disagrees more often than the alternative, circulated a letter with fellow Iowan Rep. Dave Loebsack arguing for a straight extension of the PTC through 2015. Every member of the House had the opportunity to sign that letter. But that's the least they should have done. If Congressional inaction threatens your district you can hold press conferences, make floor speeches, organize your colleagues - make a stink. But the silence has been deafening.
Clean energy enjoys strong, broad, bipartisan support. It's time to make more citizens aware of what their elected representatives are actually doing -- or not doing -- to support it.
If these members believe that the survival of wind jobs in their districts and states is not important enough to merit their support, what other industries and jobs do they think are expendable?