Trump energy adviser eyes tax code to ‘level the playing field’

By Geof Koss | 05/19/2016 01:54 PM EDT

The North Dakota congressman who has Donald Trump’s ear on energy policy said today that he’s submitted recommendations to the presumptive GOP presidential nominee that include changes to the energy tax code that will allow all energy sources to write off development expenses.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a former state energy regulator, said he recently submitted four pages of "thoughts" on energy policy that includes "rolling back" the Clean Power Plan, new source performance requirements, methane and stream buffer zone rules.

Many of the recommendations address "the attack on fossil fuels from the left," Cramer told reporters after speaking at an event sponsored by the SAFE Energy Security Leadership Council this morning. "That’s where a lot of my stuff is focused on."

Kevin Cramer
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) | Photo by Congress, courtesy of Wikipedia.

However, also included is "a little bit on tax policy, trying to find a way to truly flatten out an all-of-the-above fair tax treatment of all forms of energy," he said, drawing a contrast between the renewable production tax credit and breaks that allow oil and gas companies to write off depleting assets and expenses associated with exploration and drilling.

"There’s a difference between a tax credit, which is one industry getting money from another industry, and then there’s a tax deduction when you get to keep your own money to reinvest," Cramer said. "What I just generally think is that someone smarter than me would have to come up with it, but a way to use a deduction or depreciation schedule that rewards all the winners, that doesn’t pick losers, but rewards all the winners. If it is an American-made energy, what part of the tax code could we find a nice flattener that truly creates a level playing field?"

Citing the intangible drilling costs that oil and gas producers can write off, "that’s the type of treatment that if we could find a way to apply that type of an incentive — to me, it’s not even an incentive, it’s just allowing companies to keep their own profits and reinvest them and defer their tax liability, to somehow find a way to use that model and apply it to all technologies," he said, later adding, "a technology-neutral tax treatment is exactly what I’m talking about."

Cramer was blunt about the Clean Power Plan. "We don’t like it, we should get rid of it, and we should have a states-first regulatory regime." He said North Dakota is the "perfect place to talk about" the CPP, citing the state’s tripling of emissions reductions required in the final plan, which he called a "classic bait-and-switch."

However, Cramer conceded that simply repealing the rules industry opposes will be a difficult endeavor.

"There are some places where I’d love to," he said. "Repeal isn’t that easy to do. To the degree that there are unilateral presidential orders, that’s one thing, but the promulgation of rules is a different matter altogether."

Instead, replacement policies for some rules are inevitable.

"I would say we ought to take full advantage of the first 100 days, and then we ought to take full advantage of the first two years of a presidency if we have enough political power to do a lot of that," Cramer said. "There are lots of things from Obamacare to Waters of the U.S. and all kinds of things, depending on what happens on the legal challenges to some of those things, where we ought to at the very least get about the business of fixing problems. If at the end of all the incremental fixes you have a whole new policy, that’s all the better."

Cramer was careful to note he was not speaking for Trump and said he had not yet had any feedback from the campaign on his recommendations, which come ahead of a highly anticipated speech the candidate will make at an oil conference in North Dakota next week.

He noted that he hasn’t spoken to Trump in weeks and was unsure what the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would say at next week’s conference.

"To be honest, I don’t know whether it’s going to be an oil and gas speech or it’s going to be a more comprehensive energy speech," Cramer said.