U.S. Democrats Block COVID-19 Rescue Package Over Renewable Subsidies

  • Date: 24/03/20
  • Mike Palicz, Real Clear Energy

As businesses across the country shutter their doors and millions of Americans put their jobs and lives on hold to battle the Coronavirus, Senate Democrats are blocking a federal relief package because it insufficiently addresses climate change.

Senate Democrats voted three separate times within 24 hours to block a procedural vote allowing debate on a package their own members helped negotiate. Several news reports have indicated that Democratic objections are centered upon the omission of expanded subsidies for wind and solar, as well as new regulations on airline emissions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rightly blasted Democrats for holding up the bill. “I would like to see Senate Democrats tell the New York City doctors and nurses, who are literally overrun as we speak, that they are filibustering hospital funding and more masks because they want to argue with the airlines over their carbon footprint,” McConnell said. “I’ll tell you what will really lower our carbon footprint — if the entire economy continues to crumble, with hundreds of thousands more Americans laid off because Senate Democrats won’t let us act.”

McConnell’s anger is justified. Democrats have chosen to obstruct desperately needed relief in order to push new regulations that are not only unrelated but antithetical to the very purpose of the relief package. Additional greenhouse gas regulations would raise costs and ticket prices when the entire point of the bill is to address temporary cash flow problems from a severe demand crunch. This is nothing but an attempt to squeeze an industry by lawmakers who believe they have leverage.

Democratic obstruction over renewable subsidies is particularly appalling as well. Conservatives have come to the bargaining table in good faith with the understanding that a package would provide targeted relief for individuals and businesses disrupted by coronavirus containment efforts. Instead, Democrats and climate activists have engaged in a naked display of opportunism to appease allied special interests.

Fatih Birol, a climate activist and head of the International Energy Agency, claimed he has been telling world governments “we can use the current situation to step up our ambition to tackle climate change.” House Majority Whip James Clyburnreportedly echoed the sentiment by stating, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

Sensing their opportunity, lobbyists for several renewable energy groups—including the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association—have asked Congress for the extension of tax credits set to phase out under current law. 

This is not an emergency request from the wind and solar industries but rather a long-standing priority. Both industries had their subsidies extended in 2015, and after repeatedly stating their support for existing law, flipped positions and lobbied for extended subsidies in the recent tax extenders deal. The Wind Production Tax Credit, for example, was extended for an additional year last December, yet the wind industry is back just three months later attempting to leverage a crisis for additional subsidies.

Under normal circumstances, reasonable people can disagree over the merits of renewable tax credits as a tool in energy policy. But holding an emergency package to fight a global pandemic hostage over their inclusion is an outrage. 

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