Clean energy needs Congress’s support, not its cold shoulder

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While Congress searches for a long-term solution that will grow clean energy and cut carbon pollution, an effective policy already exists that has accomplished both — and it has created new jobs across the country in the process.

Unfortunately, Congress has yet to extend it for 2014.

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The Production Tax Credit (PTC), a tax incentive that has been available to wind energy and many other technologies, has been a bipartisan success story and has made a major difference in the fight against climate change. The tax credit has attracted up to $25 billion in private investment in a single year to the U.S. economy, spurring economic development in rural areas that need it the most. With the PTC in place, wind power has grown rapidly and can now power more than 15 million American homes.

It is absurd to talk about cutting off support for wind energy when federal incentives still exist for all other energy sources. Many incentives for conventional sources have been permanent in the tax code since 1916, coming up on their 100-year anniversary. The stability that those sectors enjoy is an advantage that is not provided to renewable energy, which has to face repeated one- and two-year extensions without any predictability about their future. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, “Only four major tax preferences are permanent, three of which are directed toward fossil fuels and one of which is directed toward nuclear energy.”

Unfortunately, while renewable energy credits regularly receive intense scrutiny from editorial boards and policy makers, subsidies to the fossil fuel industry are treated as “permanent” tax preferences and rarely discussed.

Some have suggested that a technology-neutral tax credit would be even better for the climate. This idea is worth discussing, but at least in the near term, renewable energy tax credits — already proven to be effective in advancing the nation’s environmental, energy and economic goals — should remain in place. 

Similarly, though we know that a price on carbon pollution is long overdue, while work on this crucial policy is underway, we should not jeopardize progress to date. We can’t just walk away from confronting climate change because our current policies aren’t perfect.

Climate change not only threatens people, it’s the single biggest threat to America’s wildlife, and a menace to our recreation and outdoor economy. Last summer, thousands of Alaskan salmon and trout were killed during a record-breaking heat wave. Many of America’s treasured big-game species, like moose, black bears and caribou, are seriously challenged by climate change, and the situation will only get worse if we don’t act to reduce carbon pollution.

Wind power is among the fastest, cheapest, largest-scale ways to reduce this threat. It avoids 100 million tons a year of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, equal to taking 17.5 million cars off the road. This is possible because whenever wind power is generated, it displaces the most expensive and polluting forms of power on the grid at that moment.

If we don’t extend the proven tax credit that has encouraged wind power’s rapid growth in this country until now, we might not have a wind industry later. In the global race for America to be a leader in clean energy technology, not having a wind industry would leave us in the proverbial position of being up a creek without a paddle. And that would risk well-paying jobs of tens of thousands of Americans at work in manufacturing and construction. American muscle in more than 550 manufacturing facilities across 44 states makes more than 70 percent of modern wind turbine parts right here in the USA.

Responsibly sited land-based and offshore wind power is something a wide majority of Americans can feel good about, and polls show they already do. It diversifies our electricity supply and hedges against rising prices, while America’s wildlife benefits from a cleaner environment and American job seekers get sent back to work.

If you believe as we do that climate change is among the most critical issues facing our world, wind energy is one solution we want more of. And we can have more of it today, which is good news for everyone who needs to plug things in — and for wildlife.

 

Schweiger is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.