Photo: Carl Wycoff/Flickr

The House Ways and Means Committee—Will it Throw Climate Under the Bus?

, former president | June 20, 2019, 10:57 am EDT
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The climate clock is ticking, so back in January UCS flagged three ways the new Congress could make progress on reducing emissions to address climate change, even in this challenging political environment -appropriations, infrastructure, and the tax code.  Key to that progress is the new democratically-controlled House of Representatives.  It’s been 6 months, let’s see where things stand.

The Speaker got the House off on the right foot by championing Representative Castor’s Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9), which would restrict the use of funds to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and require the President to deliver a plan to congress for meeting the targets under the agreement.

House Energy and Water Appropriators did their job under the leadership of Chair Kaptur (D-OH), passing a strong bill that significantly increases funding for critical clean energy and energy efficiency programs, making both near and long-term investments in emissions reductions.  Given the Senate majority’s new-found enthusiasm for “innovation” we’re likely to get some strong clean energy investment out of congress for FY20.  But will the president sign it?

Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) -House Energy and Commerce Committee- introduced the LIFT America Act, which would leverage significant resources towards building more resilient electricity infrastructure while making meaningful reductions in carbon and air pollutant emissions.  We are optimistic that the bill will get even stronger as it moves through committee, but will it have a companion or a pathway in the Senate with “Grim Reaper” McConnell calling the shots?

Tax extenders

That leaves the tax code, our best chance to significantly reduce emissions through federal policy in this congress.  Chairman Neal (D-MA) is set to mark up his tax extenders package today, but it contains no significant tax support for clean energy technologies and no clean energy amendments are likely to be offered.  This is undoubtedly a huge missed opportunity for the climate and a clear failure of leadership.

It is particularly surprising, because Massachusetts has thrived under a clean energy economy guided by democratic and republican governors and is a national leader in energy efficiency and offshore wind, with over 110,000 jobs in clean energy, up 84% since 2010, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

What Massachusetts has done to transform its economy can be done on a national scale, with the right policies in place, and this includes strategic tax credits, such as those that have helped catalyze wind and solar technologies.  Many of those tax credits have fazed down and are expiring, threatening to undermine the clean energy momentum we are seeing across the country.  The tax extenders bill also misses the mark on supporting new, innovative clean energy technologies essential to climate progress.

Support for electric vehicles, energy storage, and off-shore wind is absent from the package; three nascent technologies trying to get a stronger foothold in a market that doesn’t value carbon-free attributes, nor penalize carbon-intensive resources.

Revising and extending the tax credit for electric vehicles is essential to reducing emissions in the transportation sector (now the biggest sector-contributor of carbon emissions).  My colleague Jonna Hamilton wrote a blog about the Driving America Forward Act, which we hoped and expected to see included in the extenders package.

Revising and extending the investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage is essential to decarbonizing the power sector.  We can’t have a clean electricity grid without more energy storage.

Revising and extending the ITC for off-shore wind is essential to growing a new, massive source of carbon-free electricity generation, giving us more tools in our climate toolbox, and helping to make offshore wind prices more affordable for consumers, including those in Massachusetts who can be expected to purchase gigawatts of offshore wind over the next decade or two. The omission of these critical, innovative clean energy technologies in the tax extenders package is irresponsible and only puts us further behind the eight ball on avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

So far in 2019 the new House Majority has held over two dozen hearings on climate change, passed the H.R. 9 “don’t pull out of Paris” bill, passed a strong energy appropriations bill, and introduced an infrastructure bill with a meaningful focus on climate change.  These things all matter, and House Leadership deserves credit for making it happen.  But our biggest opportunity to reduce emissions is in the tax code, and there we don’t yet see the leadership on Ways and Means, and as a result we are about to miss our best opportunity to make progress on climate at the federal level.

House Ways and Means members should ensure that strong support for clean energy technologies is included in the tax extenders package.  If these policies aren’t addressed in this piece of legislation, it’s unclear when they will have an opportunity to get taken up and passed this Congress.  It’s critical that we don’t abdicate leadership on these key technologies.  We are missing our chance to lead in the transportation and clean energy technologies of the future and grow our economy.  And we are running out of time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Photo: Carl Wycoff/Flickr

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