Dems Urge Congress To Create “Robust” Recovery Plan For Clean Energy

June 5, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Clemson University's Wind Turbine test facility. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A group of lawmakers in the House and Senate urged congressional leaders on Wednesday to support the clean energy sector in future coronavirus stimulus legislation.

In a letter signed by 57 members — all Democrats or independents — the lawmakers called on Congress to create a “robust” recovery plan for renewable energy, citing widespread economic damage to the industry due to the pandemic, and the need to keep fighting climate change.

“As Congress works to help the American economy recover, we must ensure robust investments are made to spur growth in renewable energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, clean and efficient infrastructure, clean fuels, and workforce development,” the letter said.

The coronavirus crisis has put many people out of work in the renewable energy sector. Nearly 600,000 workers in clean energy jobs filed for unemployment in April and March, according to an analysis of federal labor data by BW Research.

COVID-19 outbreaks at manufacturing plants have forced companies to put their production lines on hold, disrupting supply chains around the world.

Tesla’s Fremont factory in California was shut down for seven weeks before Governor Gavin Newsom allowed the company to restart its operations in May. Meanwhile, General Electric closed down its Grand Forks wind turbine assembly plant for two weeks after more than 120 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The solar energy industry has also taken a hit, and is now hemorrhaging jobs at a faster rate than the U.S. economy, according to a May report by the Solar Energy Industry Association. All 50 states have reported solar layoffs and New York, New Jersey, and Washington have reported job losses of more than 60%.

The letter also calls for the renewal of clean energy tax credits — federal subsidies that give businesses and homeowners financial incentives to produce or invest in renewable energy. 

A number of those incentives — including the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) — which gives homeowners a 26% tax break on residential solar installations — are set to expire within the next two years. Under the current U.S. tax code, the ITC will drop to 22% in 2021 and to zero in 2022.

But advocates say the ITC has been critical for industry growth — the solar sector has on average expanded 52% annually since the ITC was enacted in 2006, according to SEIA. 

In 2019, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., introduced a bill to extend clean energy tax incentives until 2027. The measure gathered support from 20 senators, but has so far been stuck in committee. 

Environmental advocates say that coronavirus relief measures have given preferential treatment to the fossil fuel industry. The CARES Act provided nearly $2 billion in tax benefits to oil companies, according to an analysis of SEC filings by Bloomberg News.

The Trump administration has also given a boost to fossil fuels during the pandemic by allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to waive restrictions on gasoline sales to “prevent further disruption of an adequate supply of gasoline to consumers.”

Some lawmakers have tried to prevent coronavirus legislation from benefiting oil and gas companies. In May, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D.-Calif., introduced the ReWIND Act, a bill to prohibit the Trump administration from using CARES Act funds to indemnify the fossil fuel industry.

Among other provisions, the bill would suspend federal lease sales for oil, gas, and coal production until the end of the pandemic and prohibit fossil fuel companies from accessing loans set aside for “critical” businesses.

“It would be unconscionable to bail out big oil and gas corporations with money intended to help families, workers and small businesses survive this global pandemic,” said Barragán. “The CARES Act passed to help Americans struggling to make it through the COVID-19 public health crisis — not to make it easier for fossil fuel companies to drive us closer to climate catastrophe.”

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