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Energy, enviro interests regroup for next coronavirus bill

Environmentalists and clean energy industry groups were largely left out of the massive coronavirus stimulus bill that passed the Senate yesterday, but they're holding out hope Congress will heed their calls for help in future relief bills. The contours of how the next phase of COVID-19 aid will play out are unclear, with staff exhausted from days of negotiations and many lawmakers already uneasy about gathering again in Washington to vote on legislation.

Environmentalists and clean energy industry groups were largely left out of the massive coronavirus stimulus bill that passed the Senate yesterday, but they're holding out hope Congress will heed their calls for help in future relief bills.

The contours of how the next phase of COVID-19 aid will play out are unclear, with staff exhausted from days of negotiations and many lawmakers already uneasy about gathering again in Washington to vote on legislation.

But lobbyists and industry groups widely expect more targeted relief packages to be negotiated in the coming weeks and months.

Environmentalists and the renewables industry are hoping both for near-term provisions to help struggling wind and solar companies, and for broader stimulus efforts that could include boosts for clean energy infrastructure and local transit agencies, and possibly extensions of renewable tax credits.

Even former Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to carry the Democratic nomination for president this fall, said yesterday that future COVID-19 relief is an opportunity "to use my green deal to be able to generate both economic growth as consistent with the kind of infusion of monies we need into the system to keep it... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Environmentalists and clean energy industry groups were largely left out of the massive coronavirus stimulus bill that passed the Senate yesterday, but they're holding out hope Congress will heed their calls for help in future relief bills.

The contours of how the next phase of COVID-19 aid will play out are unclear, with staff exhausted from days of negotiations and many lawmakers already uneasy about gathering again in Washington to vote on legislation.

But lobbyists and industry groups widely expect more targeted relief packages to be negotiated in the coming weeks and months.

Environmentalists and the renewables industry are hoping both for near-term provisions to help struggling wind and solar companies, and for broader stimulus efforts that could include boosts for clean energy infrastructure and local transit agencies, and possibly extensions of renewable tax credits.

Even former Vice President Joe Biden, who is expected to carry the Democratic nomination for president this fall, said yesterday that future COVID-19 relief is an opportunity "to use my green deal to be able to generate both economic growth as consistent with the kind of infusion of monies we need into the system to keep it going."

For now, renewable energy groups said they're happy with broader provisions in the third tranche of relief, including expansions of unemployment insurance and direct aid for businesses.

In a potential fourth stimulus package, the wind and solar industries are looking for the kind of targeted relief that was left out of the third bill.

"It's really about how we keep the solar projects that are planned moving," said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Tax credits

On top of the list is extending safe harbor deadlines for renewable energy tax credits to allow projects delayed by the crisis to claim incentives.

Renewable industry groups also want direct pay or refundability options for tax incentives to alleviate concerns about the availability of tax equity.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is harming the wind industry's ability to build the wind farms envisioned by Congressional legislation and putting at risk 35,000 wind energy jobs," American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan said in a statement yesterday.

"To best protect these jobs and the health of our existing workforce, we are asking Congress to immediately extend the schedule and improve the liquidity of our existing tax credits," he said.

Those ideas already have some currency with lawmakers. They were among the recommendations for the third stimulus package in a letter sent Friday by Democrats on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

And while renewable credits were the subject of intense partisan debate on the Senate floor this week — with Republicans accusing Democrats of attempting to slip the Green New Deal into the stimulus — one renewable industry lobbyist said GOP offices are generally receptive to extending incentive deadlines or offering direct pay.

Environmental groups, too, are happy to help the push to keep wind and solar afloat during the economic downturn.

With so many interests still on the table, "there's a huge appetite, and almost certainty that we will see at least a fourth stimulus package, if not another after that," said Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club.

"I do think that emergency recovery, emergency stabilization for clean energy industries — for wind, for solar, for production of electric vehicles — will be a central part of that next package," Pierce said.

The solar industry stands to lose roughly half its workforce, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, while the American Wind Energy Association said COVID-19 puts roughly $35 billion of investment in jeopardy.

The American Council on Renewable Energy, meanwhile, circulated a survey of renewable companies yesterday that found wide swaths of the industry worried about tax credit deadlines and supply chain issues.

"When lawmakers turn their attention to measures aimed at bolstering specific sectors of the economy adversely impacted by coronavirus, we want to make sure they understand how supply chain disruptions and other pandemic-related delays are threatening the jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers in the renewable sector and the time-sensitive tax incentives on which renewable project financing depends," Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said in a statement.

Green group asks

Although congressional Democrats have shied away from the Green New Deal label, environmental and progressive groups certainly see potential future stimulus bills as a way to fight climate change and shore up the clean energy transition.

That could include extensions of renewable credits, new incentives for energy storage and expanding eligibility for the existing electric vehicle tax credit, environmentalists said.

"We think it's important to focus funding and programs in those places that help address these other ongoing crises, like climate change and environmental injustice, and in the businesses and the workers who are helping lead those fights," said Matthew Davis, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters.

Conservation and outdoor recreation groups also want the next round of coronavirus economic stimulus legislation to include a bipartisan, bicameral bill that significantly invests in public lands.

S. 3422, the "Great American Outdoors Act," has 58 Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. It would designate up to $9.5 billion during the next five years to fix ailing national parks and public lands and establish mandatory annual funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Jessica Wahl, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, said LWCF projects that are "close to home" for people during this public health crisis "couldn't be more critical."

Wahl, who lives in Baltimore, talked about a trail run she did earlier this week near her home.

"When I think about what I've had to do, where I've gone, it's these local and state parks," she said, adding that there is no better way now to social distance than on your own bike, in your own tent or recreational vehicle, somewhere that isn't crowded or far from home.

"It's important to have those programs fully funded," she said.

Many of the projects in the "Great American Outdoors Act" are shovel ready, said a lobbyist with an outdoor group who confirmed they were working to get the legislation into an upcoming stimulus package.

Another bill that lawmakers could fold into a future stimulus package is "America's Transportation Infrastructure Act," sponsored by Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the lobbyist said.
S 2302 would provide $250 million for a new nationwide pilot program to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and build wildlife crossings to improve safety for animals and humans.

In the same vein, many green groups are also looking for more substantial investments in state and local transit agencies, which they see as crucial to bringing down emissions in the transportation sector.

Oil reserve fallout

Another to-do list pending for Congress: Whether or not to provide funding to enable the Department of Energy to fill up the vacancies in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

DOE had requested some $3 billion to achieve those aims and help a struggling oil industry caught in the crosswinds of coronavirus and a Russian/Saudi price war, but the funding was left out of the current relief bill.

Even still, some oil producers are confident DOE will still be able to achieve those aims.

"We are confident that DOE will be able to meet the president's directive to purchase up to $3 billion in US-produced crude for the SPR and appreciate the Administration's commitment to both diplomatic and free-market solutions to the supply and demand crisis our industry is facing," said Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration & Production Council.

Unclear, however, is how DOE can do it without congressional approval. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette hinted as much in a call with reporters last week. He indicated it was up to Congress how they wanted to fund the purchase, be it through new funding or a reprogramming of existing funds.

And the lack of funding has the potential to undercut the existing solicitation issued by DOE last week to seek 30 million barrels over the next three months.

"Small to medium size American energy companies and their employees should be provided the same relief being provided to other parts of our economy, and the Secretary calls on Congress to work with the Administration to fund the President's request as soon as possible," said DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

The SPR was a sticking point in negotiations on the third package, and environmental groups are likely to oppose its inclusion in any future stimulus, even if it comes in exchange for boosts to the clean energy industry.

"We would never advocate for the trade-off of one or the other," Pierce said.

But the Trump administration has also looked to use diplomatic tools to influence Saudi oil decisions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday he talked with the country about the pressing oil market downturn.

Such efforts may prove more beneficial for the oil industry, who shrugged off the lack of SPR funding in the bill.

"The SPR was set up to protect Americans from disruptions in energy supply during national emergencies," said Frank Macchiarola, American Petroleum Institute senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs. "We appreciate DOE's effort to be responsible stewards of the SPR, however, we did not advocate for these purchases."


Source: https://www.eenews.net/eeda...

MAR 26 2020
http://www.windaction.org/posts/51086-energy-enviro-interests-regroup-for-next-coronavirus-bill
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