Every year, it seems that Washington DC sets a new bar for financial and political discord. At the beginning of 2013, a spending sequester – intended only as an ultimatum to force the two parties in Congress to work together – was allowed to take effect on March 1st. As sequestration kicked in, budget negotiations for the next year began – so far delivering more drama than action to solve the nation’s financial challenges.
Against this backdrop on Capitol Hill, our E2 DC delegation arrived on April 15 to demonstrate strong business support for energy and environmental policies that create sustainable prosperity. We advanced an agenda that will improve the nation’s economic standing, create jobs, increase exports, improve national security and create new opportunities for rural communities across the country – all while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and the economic brunt of increasing weather disasters.
This year’s large delegation trip to Washington, DC brought 13 E2 members together from a wide variety of professional and geographic backgrounds. Our delegates work with companies that generate clean energy, improve fuel efficiency in the trucking industry, retrofit buildings for energy savings, grow feedstock crops and produce biofuels, burn coal with fewer emissions, and invest in and advise clean energy enterprises. These delegates collectively are engaged in business activities in 46 states.
- Support EPA regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
- Advance clean energy finance policies.
- Support advanced biofuels development and deployment.
As clean energy continues to grow across the country, so does E2’s membership, giving us a broader geographic reach than ever before. This allowed us to reach out to Congressional offices on key energy, environment, science and agriculture committees, form new relationships and hopefully shape future legislation on our issues.
|(L to R): John Robbins, David Belote, and David Kolsrud.|
Divided in to four teams, we fanned out around the Capitol to meet with 24 House and 23 Senate offices representing 27 different states (this included the majority staff of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee where many of E2’s priorities will be decided). A full list of our meetings can be found here (April 16) and here (April 17).With a divided government often pulling in opposite directions, our overall goal was to educate members of Congress on the success of clean energy and the need to put into place long term policies that will help this success continue.
An additional objective this year was to include farmers who are biomass and clean energy producers in our delegation and to broaden the constituents for clean energy beyond the business and national security communities that we already represent to include the agricultural community. This in turn allowed us to meet with legislators from rural regions of the country, like the South and Plains States.
|Former Congressman Bob Inglis (SC) (Speaking); Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) (Foreground)|
We also met with the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Energy’s EERE and ARPA-E offices. Through these agencies the Administration is working to implement many initiatives to advance clean energy and address climate change. Our meetings provided us with a better understanding of what the government is attempting to achieve and the challenges they face, and provided them with a critical perspective from the private sector. Importantly, all of these meetings established opportunities for further dialogue that we believe will lead to better development and implementation of federal policy.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Congressman Jared Huffman (CA) and former Congressman Bob Inglis (SC), all leaders in advancing climate policy, spoke to our delegation at dinner.
During his keynote speech, Mr. Inglis talked about a conservative approach to addressing climate change, saying “A revenue-neutral carbon tax is bedrock conservatism. If the tax is revenue-neutral, the government wouldn’t be made larger. Liberty would be enhanced in that Individuals would be free to choose how much tax they wish to pay based on their consumption and willingness to innovate. They would have money in their pockets to innovate because the carbon tax would have been paired with a cut in existing taxes on income. That innovation would drive economic growth and improve national security. And there would be a cop on the beat to prevent some fuels from socializing their costs while privatizing their profits, thereby eliminating a market distortion that’s anathema to those who love free enterprise.” Those in attendance found his speech provided an important perspective on new approaches to solving our reliance on carbon based fuels.
In all of these meetings and events E2 delegates focused on three important issues currently being debated in Washington:
Supporting EPA regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants
There are currently no federal limits on the carbon emitted from power plants, our nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. Left unchecked, this carbon pollution will continue to fuel climate-related disasters, imposing staggering costs on the economy. In the year 2012, we had 11 weather events costing more than $1 billion and the cost of Superstorm Sandy is expected to exceed $60 billion.
Yet systems like the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the California Cap-and-Trade (AB32) system demonstrate that standards for carbon pollution can help provide the clear market signals businesses, entrepreneurs and investors are looking for in long-term energy and environmental policies. The systems are a model for how states can adapt different methods for lowering carbon emissions while spurring economic innovation and growth.
Federal standards for new and existing sources of carbon pollution from power plants would provide the clear and sustained market needed to advance a low-carbon economy on a national scale.
Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA is moving forward in setting standards for the amount of carbon pollution power plants emit, but those standards will face challenges in Congress.
E2 delegates made the point that setting standards to reduce greenhouse gases can be achieved through existing efficiency and renewable energy technology and Congress should not reject the approach, but rather engage with EPA and the states to develop a flexible process for achieving lower carbon emissions and growing the economy.
Advancing federal clean energy finance policies
With the House majority distrustful of clean energy investments the agenda of budget austerity and sequestration has started to dismantle federal support for clean energy and energy efficiency. Despite overwhelming public support for clean energy, some members of Congress are determined to make further cuts to federal support in both tax incentives and program funding.
Several clean energy and energy efficiency tax incentives were renewed at the end of last year but only for one year. At the same time budget sequestration has cut funding by 5 – 9% for many key programs at the Department of Energy (totaling $1.9 billion).
E2 delegates advanced the need to extend these tax incentives for a longer term and properly fund DOE programs for R&D and deployment to ensure that new American clean energy companies expand here instead of going overseas.
In particular, we advocated for funding of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). On the tax side we asked for long term renewals of the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit for wind, the Investment Tax Credit for Solar, the Section 1603 Grant in lieu of Tax Credit program, and the Section 48C Advanced Manufacturing Tax Credit.
We also spoke to the need for Congress to pursue new financing options to supplement these policies, including opening the Master Limited Partnership (MLP)structure to include renewable sources of energy. Allowing renewables to form MLPs would reduce their tax burden and allow access to cheaper and more capital than the current tax equity financing mechanisms. We also supported a Clean Energy Race to the Top program as introduced by Senator Bennett, which would set up a competition amongst the states for federal funding for innovative clean energy projects.
Supporting advanced biofuels development and deployment
Over the last several months efforts in Congress have been ramping up to alter key federal programs and incentives that support the development of non-food advanced biofuels. Currently, a variety of attempts to undermine the development of these fuels are moving being advanced, including: weakening the environmental safeguards and advanced biofuels mandates in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS); defunding DOD biofuels; repealing the restriction on high carbon fuel procurement; and cutting back on USDA biomass production incentive programs. These changes would have the intended effect of limiting market access for advanced biofuels and hampering the growth and commercialization of these alternatives.
The transportation sector accounts for 71% of U.S. oil use and is 93% dependent on petroleum. This creates overdependence on a single volatile energy source and contributes one-third of U.S. carbon emissions. Next generation biofuels have the potential to provide economic and energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stabilize prices at the pump and create thousands of jobs in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors – but only if the federal government provides consistent support to help develop this young industry.
In order to properly grow this important domestic fuel industry to scale, E2 delegates asked that Congress explore improvements for the entire slate of federal biofuels support. This means focusing on renewing and improving soon to expire tax credits for biofuels production, allowing longer term government contracts for fuel, supporting DOD’s biofuels development projects, and incentivizing farmers to grow the sustainable feed-stocks needed for non-food advanced biofuels.
For more on E2’s work with agricultural leaders, please see the next article in this month’s newsletter, “Rural America Tells Washington: Clean Energy Works for Us.”
A number of circumstances – political, economic, and weather-related – place us in a window of opportunity to advance clean energy policy at the federal level. E2 believes the best way to do this is to articulate these issues in terms of the country’s business, national security and agricultural interests, and to reach out to legislators who identify specifically with these priorities. We continue to develop messengers within the E2 community who are able to advance this agenda through their own professional expertise. We thank all of our April 2013 DC delegates for their time and their stellar contributions to this ongoing work!