THE HILL 09/10/08
By Michael Shank and U.S. Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-MD)

Governors and state legislators are doing it. Mayors are doing it. Universities are doing it. Businesses and individuals are doing it. The greening of America is occurring for a host of environmental, economic, religious, security and humanitarian reasons. However, Congress remains noticeably recalcitrant.

During this year’s most sweltering energy crisis, this Congress approved no new energy legislation. With three weeks left for Congress to act, the presidential nominees and members seem more inclined to disagree over short-term reprieves than dare to destine an enduring alternative to sustain future generations.

If ever there was a moral imperative for Congress to act, it is now. Politicians know this term well. Yet, this ethical mandate, which calls upon elected leaders to democratically represent the will of the people and ensure their protection, has too long been applied only to advance one’s party, rather than for Americans’ national interests. This is wrong. Americans know it is wrong. No wonder then that the approval rating of Congress is the lowest ever, at 14 percent.

This is not what our Founders designed our republic to look like.

More than the important greening of House buildings is needed. What the 110th Congress needs now is some old-fashioned, bipartisan leadership that leaves a lasting legacy for the next generation. How feasible is this given the semi-hostile political climate? It is a formidable, but not insurmountable task. Places to begin are the fertile foundations already forged on bipartisan legislation, the spirit of which is now threatened by political pandering. Of greatest and urgent concern are the renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits set to expire in December if Congress fails to approve their extension.

In the Senate earlier this year, bipartisan consensus by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) for a short-term extension of the renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits in S. 2821 was followed by an overwhelming vote of 88-8 to add it as an amendment to the housing bill. That should have greased the wheels for the House to perform similarly. House leaders, however, rejected it and persisted with approaches that both drew veto threats and garnered slim House majorities. It shouldn’t surprise that these approaches were rejected by the Senate. After eight rejections, one would think leaders might recognize that a bipartisan approach is needed if the goal is an extension of these tax credits.

The leadership and partnership of Sens. Cantwell and Ensign are bolstered not only by an urgent request from all 50 governors for Congress to approve a five-year extension of the tax credits. Former President Bill Clinton, speaking at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) national clean energy summit on Aug. 19 urged a minimum three- to six-year extension of these tax credits as one of 10 priorities to enable U.S. energy independence.

Almost every House incumbent currently campaigning in a contested race is among more than 130 cosponsors of H.R. 6709 introduced by Reps. John Peterson (R-Pa.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). The bill includes a five-year extension of renewable energy tax credits, the ripest of low-hanging fruit.

Still, political sticking points loom large. Disagreements continue over the House majority “pay as you go” rule. Serious concerns by key leaders remain vis-a-vis offshore drilling’s environmental impacts, effects upon prices and projections of marginal additional supplies. If objections, politics and procedural barriers prevail, which many members would agree are rationally rooted, the result will be no new energy legislation and a major setback to Americans’ ability to build an alternative energy infrastructure that can eventually transition our country from its dependence on finite fossil fuels. Sacrificed for a partisan blame game, these tax credits will expire and, according to a study by Navigant, more than 116,000 American jobs and $19 billion in investment in solar and wind projects in the U.S. will be lost in the next six to eight months.

At November’s elections, Americans will not forget congressional inaction. This is why incumbents from both parties should recognize that by representing the national interest of the American people to extend the tax credits, they simultaneously serve their campaign self-interests.

Citizens are calling for Congress to approve sustainable solutions to America’s energy crisis. Congress must untangle itself from the catfight it is caught in and heed this call. One way is by offering people, our economy and our long-term security a booster package to build an energy future that is reliable, renewable and resourced responsibly. That is why the renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits should be renewed. Failing even this small legislative effort, a House-cleaning come November and January will be entirely just.

Bartlett is a member of the House Science and Technology Committee. Shank is the communications director at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.