Mitt Romney's presidential campaign came out yesterday with its strongest opposition to date on extending a key wind industry tax credit, saying the presumptive Republican nominee will allow it "to expire" and tying the issue to broader opposition to President Obama's support for renewable energy.
Romney had not shied away from criticizing Obama's support for renewable energy -- highlighting the loan guarantee to now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, among other issues, at numerous campaign stops this year -- but the candidate until yesterday had avoided taking a firm position on the production tax credit for wind, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
"The President may believe that his economic plan 'worked' and that America wants to repeat the experience for another four years, but the facts don't back that up. Mitt Romney believes it is a time for a new approach to ensure our nation's energy independence," Romney's campaign said in a statement yesterday.
"He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits," the statement continued. "Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive, and wherever private sector competitors with far more experience than the President believe the investment will produce results."
Earlier in the day yesterday, the Obama campaign targeted Romney's lack of support for wind energy in a conference call with officials from Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- all swing states -- and a memo outlining the industry's contribution to the economy, citing industry estimates that the credit's expiration will cost 37,000 jobs nationwide. The industry supports 7,000 jobs in Iowa, 5,000 in Colorado, 6,000 in Ohio and 3,000 to 4,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Obama campaign memo.
"In our states, windmills aren't imaginary. Wind energy is a real job creator and energy producer," the memo says. "For states like ours with storied manufacturing supply chains, wind energy is an emerging industry that's producing next-generation good-paying, manufacturing, middle-class jobs."
Romney's statement raises the stakes in the ongoing effort to extend the PTC, which has significant bipartisan support in both the House and Senate but has struggled to gain traction this year. It remains to be seen whether the PTC and other expiring tax provisions will be extended before the election or during a lame-duck session, but Romney's statement did not seem to have an immediate effect on those conversations.
Senate still mulling PTC's fate
Members of the Senate Finance Committee, which is aiming to produce an "extenders" package, huddled again last night to negotiate what provisions would be included in such a bill.
Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said after the meeting that the members had continued to make progress toward a deal, but he would not say whether a bill would be marked up this week before the Senate adjourns for its August recess.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another committee member, said Romney's statement did not come up during the meeting last night, and he suggested that the presumptive nominee's opposition would not necessarily mean the hopes for a PTC extension are completely dashed. Cornyn said he viewed getting rid of the PTC as part of a broader tax reform aimed at "broadening the base" by eliminating targeted deductions to achieve a lower overall corporate tax rate.
That said, Cornyn acknowledged that "it seems like it's a little late to be trying to do major tax reform now" with Congress set to adjourn after this week and expected to come back for just a few weeks in September.
Cornyn called the Romney campaign's statement "an opening bid to engage in the sort of comprehensive review of our tax code" that Congress is expected to take up next year. Cornyn, whose state leads the nation in installed wind capacity, has previously said he sees the value in not just "lopping ... off" the PTC right away because of the extent to which companies have grown with an expectation that it would continue (E&E Daily, March 27).
Romney's statement did not seem to change the positions of Republicans who had previously favored extending the credit or phasing it out over a period of years.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who is co-sponsoring a bill to extend the PTC through 2014, said he continued to support that extension. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the lead sponsor of that bill, S. 2201, said he was unaware of Romney's statement and declined further comment until he learned more about it.
Other Republicans who have not signed onto the Grassley bill but have said the PTC should continue in some form beyond this year stuck to those positions, as well. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has long supported a PTC phaseout, the details of which remain unclear, and he said he stuck to that position.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) also said he remained supportive of a phaseout as a means to get to a "market-based approach" to support wind energy. He said supporters of the phaseout were waiting to hear more from the wind industry on how much longer the credit would be needed and suggested that Romney's statement could jump-start that conversation.
"Remember what we're talking about -- we're talking about making sure it's paid for, and a phaseout. Maybe it gets everybody focused on doing that, right?" Hoeven told reporters in the Capitol. "Because there's different ideas -- some people just want to continue it. So maybe this actually will help bring us to some kind of agreement or compromise."
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is said to be a top contender to be vice president on Romney's ticket, has been working on a corporate tax reform plan aimed at lowering the top rate to 25 percent by eliminating various yet-to-be-identified loopholes and deductions, building on the work of last year's debt "supercommittee" that failed to reach consensus. He deferred questions on Romney's PTC position to his office.
"Our tax code is an inefficient, jumbled mess that makes our nation less competitive and stifles growth," a Portman spokesman, Jeffrey Sadosky, said in an email last night, declining to address the PTC outside the context of broader tax reform.
Democrats were more critical of Romney's newly aggressive opposition to the PTC.
"If we want to be a manufacturing powerhouse, we should be all in on the wind, and the fact that the industry needs a little bit of a lift for the next few years to get its roots deeply into the American economic soil is fully understandable," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a lead co-sponsor of S. 2201, who has regularly been giving regular Senate floor speeches supporting a PTC extension. "I'm beyond puzzled that Governor Romney is suggesting we don't need a strong wind industry in America."
Poll shows Iowans like wind
The American Wind Energy Association, which has lobbied for a PTC extension all year, put out a statement last night saying it was "disappointed that the Romney campaign has come out with an anti-wind stance."
AWEA also released a poll of voters in Iowa indicating broad support for wind energy in the key swing state, which gets 20 percent of its power from wind. The poll found that 57 percent of voters, including 41 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of independents, would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who "did not support expanding wind power generation," according to a polling memo prepared by Public Opinion Strategies. The poll of 500 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percentage points.
"I'm disappointed that the statement by Governor Romney's spokesperson shows a lack of full understanding of how important the wind energy tax credit is for Iowa and our nation. It's the wrong decision," Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said in a statement distributed by AWEA.