The version of the tax overhaul approved by House Republicans earlier this month contained a lot of red meat for redder members of Congress.
In that chamber, many GOP lawmakers are opposed to the federal government lending a helping hand to renewable energy. The House tax proposal, which passed the chamber in the middle of November, would partially or completely roll back tax breaks meant to encourage wind and solar development nationwide.
The Senate version, on the other hand, doesn't mention the wind and solar tax credits. In this political environment, with Republicans in control of Congress, the wind and solar lobby was more than happy to see the tax breaks left untouched.
But the upper chamber’s version of the bill, which on Wednesday cleared a key procedural hurdle and moved closer to a final vote, contains a provision that the wind and solar industry worries would inadvertently upend investment in renewable energy.
The effect of the Senate tax bill on the wind and solar sector is likely unintentional — or so renewable advocates hope. Despite the motives, the energy tangle is a telling sign of the frantic speed with which Congress is attempting to rewrite the U.S. tax code, and indeed much of American life, with meager debate.
“We don’t normally speak in these hyperbolic terms,” said Greg Wetstone, president and chief executive of the lobbying group American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE). “What this bill would do is bring that investment to a screeching halt.”
Here’s why: When an electric utility or another company wants to erect wind turbines or solar arrays for large-scale electricity generation, it will more often than not partner with a large financier, such as Goldman Sachs or Google, to help fund the project.
In exchange, the company agrees to give the financial institution the wind or solar credit it gets from the government. That allows those financiers, often multinational corporations with their own considerable tax burdens, to lighten their loads.
Here’s where the Senate tax bill comes in: A new tax in the legislation — called the base erosion anti-abuse tax, or BEAT — is designed to discourage multinational corporations from moving profits and jobs offshore.
But the formula for calculating multinationals’ obligation under that new tax sweeps up the wind and solar credits, too. For every dollar earned through a wind or solar tax credit, the government could levy an additional dollar through the BEAT tax, potentially canceling out renewable subsidies going forward and retroactively.
"[T]he way the tax is calculated could claw back tax credits that US companies were awarded for investing in renewable energy projects in the past," Keith Martin, a tax and finance lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright, wrote in a note laying out his concern. "It would also make it harder for banks and other large companies that are the principal source of tax equity for renewable energy to know, when closing on tax equity investments, whether they will receive the tax credits on offer for making the investments."
Solar and wind representatives in Washington, including the American Wind Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association and ACORE, sent a letter to senators urging them to exempt their tax credits.
“While we are grateful that the Senate tax proposal leaves the current phase-down schedules for wind and solar energy tax credits unchanged, the bill’s BEAT provisions undermine our capacity to use renewable energy tax credits,” the letter read. “We respectfully, and urgently, ask that the BEAT program be amended.”
Financial institutions that invest in renewables, many of which are members of ACORE, have indicated they need to bolt from the renewable investment market if that tax becomes law, Wetstone said.
Peter L. Kelley, vice president of public affairs at the American Wind Energy Association, added by email, "Otherwise it could kill over half the wind projects in America, cause factory layoffs and break construction contracts already signed, and deprive farming communities of a cash crop they’re counting on."
This month, a group of GOP senators from wind-swept states — Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota and Dean Heller of Nevada — said they would oppose the alteration that the House made to the production tax credit benefiting onshore wind energy. Their stance on the Senate language, however, is unclear.
Now, Grassley and other senators like Rob Portman (R) of Ohio, have asked the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation to score the effect such an exemption would have on the overall tax package, according to a person who has spoken to one of the senator’s offices.
Unlike the House proposal, which explicitly targeted renewables, there’s no indication the hit on wind and solar in the Senate version was intentional.
“That’s our hope,” Wetstone said. Then he added, “But the fact that this problem has not been fixed raises concerns.”
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-- "This is what happens when you try to take legislative shortcut:" A ruling by the Senate parliamentarian this week underscores how any plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might still face obstacles even if Congress approves the move as part of the GOP tax package.
The parliamentarian struck a section of the tax bill requiring the interior secretary to lease the refuge’s coastal plain without conducting a lengthy review under the National Environmental Policy Act, according to Senate aides. Since NEPA falls under the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s jurisdiction, the provision was stripped after running afoul of the so-called Byrd Rule, which delineates what meets special budget procedures governing debate of the tax package.
As a result, the Congressional Budget Office has revised its budget estimates of the tax bill, on the grounds that ANWR leasing will be delayed and any leasing in the refuge will generate $257 million less in federal revenue over the course of 10 years.
The parliamentarian's decision buoyed the hopes of environmentalists, at least in the short term. "I don’t think a NEPA change in the bill is easy," said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society
"This is what happens when you try to take legislative shortcuts with complicated policies," Kristen Miller, conservation director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said. "Arctic Refuge drilling should never have been a part of reconciliation, and indeed should never occur."
But a Senate Republican aide, who asked for anonymity because the bill is not final yet, said in an email that rewriting the provision to satisfy budget rules "won’t be a problem. [That’s the] least of our worries."
Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson contributed reporting.
-- “I have no reason to disagree:" In a break with the Trump administration, Barry Myers, President Trump’s pick to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday that he believes humans are the main driver of climate change.
Myers was asked by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) about whether he agreed with the recent federally mandated climate science report released earlier this month that charged it was “extremely likely” human activities are the main cause of recent climate change.
“I have no reason to disagree with the reports,” Myers told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, The Post’s Jason Samenow reported.
Pressed further by Markey on whether he agrees “humans are the main cause of climate change,” Myers responded, “Yes.” Myers also added during the hearing, per HuffPost, that “if ice is melting, ice is melting, and one’s opinion about it doesn’t matter… We can’t dispute the facts once they’re in front of us, and we need to act upon them.”
The takeaway: Myers's testimony is the strongest affirmation from a Trump nominee during a Senate hearing of the scientific consensus that humans cause climate change.
-- Meanwhile, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White, who unlike Myers told senators she was "very uncertain" of the extent to which humans contribute to the warming climate, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. They also approved the nomination of former coal and nuclear lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to be EPA deputy administrator.
Democrats have criticized Hartnett White, who they say ignores consensus on climate change. “A nominee who can’t follow the thread from carbon pollution, to ocean warming, to sea level rise, who imagines science that is not there, and ignores science that is there, is a preposterous nominee,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said before Wednesday's vote, per the Washington Examiner.
-- FERC update: Democrat Richard Glick was formally sworn-in as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday. Republican Kevin McIntyre, expected to serve as the commission’s chair, was confirmed by the Senate on Nov. 2 and is waiting to be sworn-in as well.
-- "It will be a shocker:" Former coal executive Don Blankenship is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in West Virginia, according to a report by local station WCHS. Blankenship, the former chief executive of Massey Energy, went to federal prison for a one-year sentence following the 2010 mine explosion at Upper Big Branch in West Virginia that killed 29 people. He has never admitted guilt for the blast and continues to push for an investigation to exonerate him.
On Twitter, where like Trump the business executive has spouted off incendiary tweets for years as a private citizen, Blankenship gave every indication he will charge out of the gate running in his campaign to unseat West Virginia's Democratic senator and longtime public foe, Joe Manchin III.
We will be putting out a new ad tomorrow morning on TV, Facebook, and more. It will be a shocker. Government corruption is pandemic and obvious.— Don Blankenship (@DonBlankenship) November 30, 2017
A spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America told Bloomberg that voters will “render the same judgment on the criminal Don Blankenship that a West Virginia jury did: guilty as charged, and unworthy of holding any office.”
In May, Blankenship called on President Trump to oppose legislation that would permit harsher punishment for coal mine supervisors who violate health and safety protocols.
Blankenship tweeted the letter in May:
Blankenship is also a longtime critic of Manchin. Soon after he completed his prison sentence, he targeted Manchin in several tweets:
I challenge Sen. Manchin to debate UBB truth. A U.S. Senator who says I have "blood on my hands" should be man enough to face me in public.— Don Blankenship (@DonBlankenship) May 10, 2017
According to The Daily Independent, which serves the city of Ashland, Ky. near the West Virginia border, the Federal Election Commission, the secretary of the Senate nor the West Virginia secretary of state's office have yet received Blankenship's filings.
-- “Climate change,” scrubbed: References to “climate change” in grants funded by the National Science Foundation have dropped 40 percent this year. Meanwhile, the use of alternate terms such as “extreme weather” in grants has seen a steady rise in recent years, according to a new analysis by NPR. The shift may be a result of the Trump administration’s skepticism of climate change, per the report.
There were 302 grants with the phrase “climate change” this year from Jan. 1 to Nov. 10, down from 520 in 2016 and 474 in 2015. Meanwhile, grants with phrases like “extreme weather” or “environmental change” has steadily increased from 181 in 2014, 194 in 2015, to 240 in 2016 and 208 in 2017, per NPR.
"Scientists I know are increasingly using terms like 'global change', 'environmental change', and 'extreme weather', rather than explicitly saying 'climate change'," Jonathan Thompson, the senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest and lead investigator on multiple NSF-funded projects, told NPR. "This seems to be born out of an abundance of caution to limit their exposure to any political landmines in what is already an extremely competitive process.”
The latest on Puerto Rico:
- The House Republicans tax bill would have “devastating” effects on Puerto Rico, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN. “It would kill any chance we have of putting together a plan for sustained growth that would repopulate the island,” Cruz said. The bill would apply a 20 percent excise tax to payments made by companies on the mainland to businesses in Puerto Rico, essentially taxing products manufactured on the island that are brought to the mainland, per the report. "You have to wonder, what mind thinks that imposing a tax on goods and services in a economy that's in a coma, it's going to help?" she said. "That is a mind that really does not take into account the needs of the Puerto Rican people."
- Nevertheless, President Trump said Wednesday Puerto Ricans are “doing well.” While promoting the tax plan, Trump said: “Puerto Rico has been a tough situation because of the fact it was in very, very bad shape before the storms ever hit. But they’re doing well there and it’s healing and it’s getting better and we’re getting them power and all of things that they have to have.”
Here’s how Sierra Club spokesman Jonathan Berman responded to Trump’s remarks:
More than 50% of Puerto Rico still does not have power and about 10% still do not have access to safe drinking water. This is not "doing well." This is Americans continuing to suffer under Trump's watch https://t.co/7N7O9SYBnk— Jonathon Berman (@JonathonBerman) November 29, 2017
- It’s been more than 10 weeks since Maria hit the island, but the government’s death toll still stands at 55. According to Vox, preliminary research from two social science researchers predicts the death toll may be closer to 1,085.
-- Keystone leak update: A preliminary investigation into the 210,000 gallon leak earlier this month of the Keystone XL pipeline in South Dakota found it was caused by damage that occurred during construction. The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released an order Tuesday detailing “the rupture has characteristics of mechanical damage from original construction. Preliminary information indicates the Failure may have been caused by mechanical damage to the pipeline and coating associated with a weight installed on the pipeline in 2008.”
The order added: “Removal of crude oil from the spill area is underway. Various state agencies and numerous contractors working on behalf of the operator, as well as other operating personnel, are performing clean-up, remediation, and monitoring activities.”
The Hill’s Timothy Cama reported PHMSA is calling on TransCanada to provide a more detailed action plan following the leak and an assessment of the cause.
-- One of the country’s biggest oil fields is turning to solar: The Belridge oil field near Bakersfield, Calif., one of the largest in the country, will now be partly powered by a major solar energy project, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. The field, which last year produced 76,000 barrels of oil a day, will now produce solar energy in a move that will make its oil extraction process more environmentally friendly. Aera Energy, which operates the oil field, will work with GlassPoint Solar to use a “large, 850-megawatt solar thermal array to evaporate the water that’s pumped into the ground to liberate more oil,” per Mooney. The project will offset 4.87 billion cubic feet of natural gas and curb emissions by 376,000 tons of carbon. The water used in the extraction process will be recycled and pumped back into the ground.
What helped make the project reality was California’s recent extension of the cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions until 2030, which sets a limit on emissions statewide and requires businesses to purchase a permit in order to emit carbon. The system also penalizes businesses for exceeding the cap, and allows businesses to buy and sell the permits for emissions, incentivizing companies to reduce emissions and sell off any extra savings.
What’s notable about the project is the use of renewables to produce fuels that do emit greenhouse gases, Mooney points out, adding: “What these examples perhaps show most of all is that as renewable energy becomes more and more a part of our lives, it will also become increasingly integrated into more traditional energy systems.”
-- A burst of molten rock, then a short-term cooling: Mount Agung, a volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali, is spewing ash into the sky and has forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people in the area. And Vox’s Umair Irfan writes about how the eruption can trigger a planet-cooling effect as gas and particles spread through the atmosphere.
After an eruption, gases like sulfur dioxide are released into the atmosphere, which can react to form substances that scatter sunlight and cool the planet, Irfan explains. The amount of cooling depends on the amount of the compound that erupts.
Here’s how Capital Weather Gang’s Angela Fritz explained the immediate aftermath of an eruption on temperatures: “In the short term, ash particles would cause regional cooling, as the layer of dust prevents some sunlight from reaching the ground. In the long term, sulfur dioxide would mix with water droplets in the atmosphere, spread across the globe and reflect sunlight for up to three years. Average global temperature could decrease significantly.”
- The Natural Gas Roundtable hosts FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee at its luncheon.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on the Department of Energy’s grid resilience proposal.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds an event on “Zero-emission Fuel in the Maritime Sector.”.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds a legislative hearing on a bill to streamline water projects.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on HUD and community block grants for disaster recovery on Friday.
- EPA head Scott Pruitt is set to hold a town hall in Nevada, Iowa on Friday.
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on "Conservation programs, the waters of the United States, and the Renewable Fuel Standard" on Dec. 6.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will hold a legislative hearing to review the extension of endangered fish recovery programs on Dec. 6.
Here's the social media evolution of Jaime Phillips, an operative with Project Veritas, who wiped her previous right-leaning social media accounts and joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics:
Watch a tiger shark swim near beachgoers in Miami:
In the wake of his firing from NBC, people are remembering cringe-worthy Matt Lauer moments from the "Today" show and beyond:
Late-night comedians weighed in on the latest allegations against NBC's Matt Lauer: