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Vulnerable Republicans ask McConnell for ‘clean energy’ help

They want support for renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies that appeal to moderate voters. Their letter does not bring up climate change.

Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona is among the Republicans facing a competitive opponent in November.
Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona is among the Republicans facing a competitive opponent in November. (EPA)

Several Republican senators in competitive campaigns are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to include in coronavirus relief legislation provisions to “bolster jobs and innovation” in the renewable energy, nuclear, efficiency, carbon-capture and other low-carbon sectors.

In a letter Thursday to McConnell, seven senators, the majority of whom are in tight races, said the coronavirus pandemic has decimated jobs in the “clean energy sector” and helping the industry would make financial sense.

“As we focus on getting the country back to work, we must include an industry that had already been putting Americans to work faster, and in more places, than the overall economy, before the COVID pandemic hit,” the letter says. The letter does not mention a common pitch for the sector: that it would help stave off calamitous climate change.

Sens. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Martha McSally, R-Ariz.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., signed the letter. All but Burr and Murkowski are defending their seats, and Collins, Gardner, McSally and Tillis are all in highly competitive campaigns.

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The message is the latest flare at-risk Republicans are seeking to burnish their environmental credentials before the November election, and sets up a potential clash with oil- and coal-state colleagues, a group of whom are urging Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, to end the production tax credit for wind energy.

Gardner and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is fending off a challenge from his state’s governor, are running on and cheered the passage of a sweeping conservation bill the House cleared for President Donald Trump’s signature on Wednesday.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; James M. Inhofe, R-Okla.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said Tuesday they want to see the PTC for wind expire after 2020. All but Alexander represent significant oil or coal-producing states.

‘Mature’ industry

“This wind industry is now mature and does not need more taxpayer subsidies,” they told Grassley, a long-time defender of wind energy. Iowa is the No. 2-ranked state for wind production, with more than 40 percent of its electricity coming from wind power.

Tom Kiernan, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said in an emailed statement the PTC has pulled billions of dollars into domestic energy production while lowering emissions and creating more than 100,000 jobs.

“The U.S. wind industry is committed to building on that success by strengthening the American economy, especially as our nation recovers from the COVID-induced recession,” Kiernan said. “That’s why we are asking Congress to make changes that ensure current constraints on available tax equity don’t stall continued investment.”

Roughly 600,000 low-carbon-energy workers in the U.S. have lost their jobs since the pandemic and effort to address it locked down the nation.

“Clean energy job growth had outpaced the economy by 70 percent over the past five years,” the senators who wrote the Thursday letter said, citing data from E2, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “All of this work is now being undermined in the blink of an eye.”

In June, the IRS provided a lifeline to renewable energy developers, giving them an extra year of construction time to bring projects, like wind farms, online and qualify for federal tax credits.

The agency issued that guidance, released due to the pandemic and drew bipartisan praise, before Congress addressed the extension through legislation.

Without action, companies that broke ground on new projects in 2016, which saw a surge in construction, would have had through this calendar year to come online.

Murkowski, Tillis and Collins all applauded the IRS decision.

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