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Wind credits, part 2: the Romney campaign’s attacks on current policy

at 06:15 AM ET, 08/09/2012


(Bill Roth — Associated Press)

“President Obama’s promise to ‘easily’ create 5 million green energy jobs has become a particularly depressing punch line amidst the endless disappointments of the last four years. The president spent $90 billion in taxpayer stimulus dollars, some of which went to his donors and political allies or was sent to create jobs overseas instead of here in America. Now we have American wind and solar energy sectors that combine to produce only one percent of our energy — and our wind industry has actually lost 10,000 jobs.”

— Remarks from Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, July 31, 2012

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams made these remarks last week as he responded to criticism of the campaign’s newly stated opposition to tax breaks for the wind-energy industry. We covered a claim from President Obama’s campaign in a previous column, and now it’s time to examine this follow-up from Romney’s team.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) authored the original tax credit in 1992, and he is seeking an extension for it. He expressed disbelief over the Romney campaign’s statement, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would reach out to the former governor’s campaign for answers.

“I have got to get to the bottom of what they are doing,” Grassley said, “because I think people that didn’t know what they were doing said it, because [Romney] was over in Poland, he obviously wasn’t thinking about wind energy.”

The Romney campaign showed no signs of reversing its position. Instead, Williams described Obama’s green-energy promises as a joke, claiming that success of the federal investments had been minimal and that much of the funding went to the president’s allies. He added that the wind-energy sector lost 10,000 jobs while the wind and solar industries have produced only 1 percent of America’s electricity.

Let’s examine Williams’s claims to find out how much truth they contain.

The Facts

In terms of Obama promising 5 million green-energy jobs, Williams was referring to an October 2008 debate in which then-Sen. Obama talked about climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our time. Here’s what the Democratic nominee said:

“It’s absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity, because if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily, here in the United States.”

That brings us to the question of whether some of the economic stimulus money went to Obama’s political allies or “was sent to create jobs overseas.”

We’ve covered allegations of Obama’s crony capitalism many times before, and most of the claims earned one Pinocchio. In the most recent case, we pointed out that it’s hard to prove without a doubt that campaign support directly influenced decision making, even though the circumstantial evidence is compelling — especially when it comes to the loans that went to Solyndra.

As for whether stimulus money went toward jobs overseas, we’ve covered this issue in several columns as well. Some foreign companies received federal funds, but that mainly happened because the domestic wind industry was not capable of handling a sudden spike in demand. Beyond that, the foreign firms often hired U.S. workers at their subsidiaries. And none of the federal help was expressly intended to create jobs overseas.

In a previous column, we examined a long list of examples that the Republican National Committee produced to show how various countries benefited from stimulus funding. We awarded three Pinocchios in that case, noting that “most of these claims are ridiculous, especially for an organization that claims it supports free enterprise.”

It’s worth mentioning that Obama said during a January 2010 speech about the economy that “building a robust clean-energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future — jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”

Moving on to the assertion that wind and solar produce only 1 percent of the nation’s energy, that figure is from 2010, so it’s outdated. Williams pulled it from one of the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual energy reviews.

We found more current data from the EIA that shows wind and solar combine for about 4 percent of total U.S. electricity this year through May. That’s not a whopping amount, but it shows that Williams was wrong, and that the Obama administration is well on its way toward meeting its promise of doubling renewable-energy output.

Finally, let’s look at the claim that the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs. Surprisingly, this comes from the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group that has done considerable lobbying for the wind credits.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, the trade association “estimates that the entire wind energy sector directly and indirectly employed 75,000 full-time workers in the United States at the end of 2010 – about 10,000 fewer full-time equivalent jobs than in 2009, mostly due to the decrease in new wind power plant construction.”

We questioned the usefulness of this organization’s jobs numbers in our last column, but the group’s philosophies do not align with those of the Romney campaign on this issue, so we’re not going to fault Williams for citing the association’s data.

The Pinocchio Test

Williams’s statement is a mixed bag. It contains a reference to a debate comment the president can’t deny; a well-supported but not-quite-bulletproof insinuation of crony capitalism; some facts out of context; a misleadingly outdated statistic from the Energy Information Administration; and a jobs number from a trade group that we can’t blame the Romney campaign for citing.

On balance, Williams earns two Pinocchios for his comments.

Two Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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