Obama to push for green-energy tax breaks in Iowa speech

President Obama will use the camera-friendly backdrop of an Iowa wind-energy facility Thursday to ramp up pressure on Congress to extend renewable-energy tax breaks, an issue that’s become a top policy priority for the White House.

Obama will speak Thursday afternoon at TPI Composites, a manufacturer of wind turbine blades in Newton, Iowa. The president is expected to call for the extension of the production tax credit for wind and the expansion of a stimulus-law program that provides tax credits for manufacturing green-energy-related equipment.

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The high-profile speech and the president’s decision to put extending the tax breaks on his “to-do list” for Congress indicate that the White House sees the issue as a political winner going into the election.

Though extending the tax credits has some bipartisan support, it’s unclear whether the proposal has the political backing to make its way through Congress during an election year. Some Republicans oppose the plan and are pushing legislation to eliminate all energy tax breaks.

Still, the proposal fits neatly into the president’s election-year energy messaging. Obama hopes to please his liberal base by touting the importance of investments in renewable energy, while reaching out to centrists by underscoring his push to expand domestic oil-and-gas production.

The White House launched a full-court press this week on the energy tax breaks in advance of the speech. White House energy adviser Heather Zichal and top administration officials, including Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, met with wind energy developers and supply chain manufacturers Tuesday. Zichal then briefed the White House press corps on the meeting.

And Chu used the opening of an expanded DuPont solar manufacturing plant in Circleville, Ohio, on Tuesday to call for extending the tax breaks.

“The Circleville plant expansion exemplifies American ingenuity and manufacturing leadership in clean energy technologies — creating jobs and producing clean, renewable power for our country’s homes and businesses,” Chu said in a statement.

But House Republicans are running counter-programming this week that will take aim at Obama's energy policies. The GOP leadership-run House Energy Action Team (HEAT) is holding a slew of events and press conferences around the country, part of a broader campaign to paint the president as the enemy of expanded domestic drilling.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.) will hold a press conference Thursday in Bismarck, N.D., and then tour a Continental Resources drilling rig in Killdeer. On Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and several other members will tour a Shell deepwater drilling rig and an offshore production platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The wind industry has launched an aggressive public relations and lobbying campaign to extend the production tax credit, which provides a credit for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced from wind.

The American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade group, says a failure to extend the tax credit, which expires at the end of the year, could cost thousands of jobs. 

Separately, the White House is pushing to expand the 30 percent credit for manufacturing equipment like solar panel components and wind turbines.

The 2009 stimulus law provided a maximum of $2.3 billion in tax credits for the program, but efforts in Congress to add billions to that cap have fallen short.

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