Earl the Pearl: "Green" the tax code
My congressman, Earl Blumenauer, is perfect for his job. He represents Portland, Oregon quite well. Yesterday he testified in front of a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of the federal tax laws, about the relationship of the tax system to the ecosystem. He offered a couple of ideas: a systematic review of the tax laws to see how they impact the environment, and tax incentives to reward bicycle commuters (of which he is one).
Now, I'm highly skeptical when politicians, corporations, and mainstream media types start coming on with whole "green" and "sustainable" thing. Some of us have been thinking about, and even working on, ecology issues most of our adult lives, and the mad rush by everybody and his brother to make hay out of them is a little off-putting. When the electric company sends me a form that says, "We'll be green if you pay us more every month," I throw it right into... well, the recycling bin.
But I think Earl's ideas are good ones. Oil cronies like Bush and Cheney have made a mint off the tax code (just as the timber and mining boys have traditionally done), and they could care less what kind of mess they leave behind after they've made their money. It's about time somebody tried to assess how badly the tax laws are exacerbating the environmental problems created by the tax-favored industries. And if we're going to let employers buy spendy parking places for the executives tax-free, we ought to extend similar tax giveaways to bosses who want to help bike commuters with their expenses.
Anyhow, here's part of his testimony:
An action that could help direct our efforts to make the tax code as carbon friendly as possible would be to commission a carbon audit of the tax code. I am currently drafting legislation which would have the National Academy of Sciences convene a panel of experts to look at the tax code and identify activities that impact our carbon emissions. In addition to providing us with important information on how to "green the tax code," this exercise could also supply us with ideas on how to raise revenue....I rag on the city politicians when they go all "green" on us, because it's really not part of their job descriptions. But for a member of Congress, it decidedly is, and I agree with Blumenauer that the tax system has an impact that ought to be optimized.
It is vital that any changes to the tax code increase incentives for producing energy in a clean, renewable manner. I strongly support the renewable production tax credit (PTC), which has made a huge difference to the development of renewable energy, especially wind, in my state and around the country....
I am pleased to be a co-sponsor of Rep. Earl Pomeroy's legislation to extend the production tax credit for five years. In fact, I would support a longer-term extension to give even more certainty to the industry. As has been discussed in this Committee, the short-term extensions of the credit in the past have created a boom-and-bust cycle that is not conducive to the development of capital intensive projects like wind farms and geothermal plants. I understand this is an expensive endeavor, and pledge to help the Committee to look for additional revenue raisers in the energy realm that could offset the additional cost...
Last month, Rep. Tom Cole and I introduced H.R. 1772, the Rural Wind Energy Development Act. This legislation would provide an investment tax credit of $ 1500 per 1/2 kilowatt of capacity for small wind systems, which could be carried over for a customer unable to take advantage of the entire credit within a one-year period. The bill also calls for a 3-year accelerated depreciation for small wind systems.
Small wind systems are electric generators that produce 100 kilowatts or less of energy -- but the wind energy industry estimates that this credit will be mostly used for turbines between 2 and 10 kW in size. The tax credit would be available to offset the high up-front costs of owning a small wind turbine for homeowners, farmers, and small businesses. It would allow these individuals to generate their own power, independent from the electric grid. They would be able to cut their energy bills and, at times, put power back into the grid.
There is an existing investment tax credit available to homeowners who install small solar systems, which has been very successful in increasing the number of solar panels installed. This bill would simply expand that to include wind....
Another piece of legislation I would like to highlight is H.R. 1498, which would address not the production of energy but the use of oil. The "Bike Commuter Act" would extend the transportation fringe benefit to bike commuters. It would reward commuters who burn calories instead of gas.
Currently, employers may offer a transportation fringe benefit to their employees for certain costs incurred while commuting to work. Employees who take advantage of this benefit may receive a tax-exempt benefit of up to $ 215/month for drivers participating in qualified parking plans or $ 110/month for those who use transit or vanpooling. Current law also allows the option of taking cash compensation. My legislation aims to balance the incentive structure by extending the transportation fringe benefit to include bicycling.
With over 50 percent of the population commuting 5 miles or less to work, incentives for bicycle commuting have great potential to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips. A Rodale Press survey recently found that Americans want to have the opportunity to bike to work instead of drive, with 40% of those surveyed indicating they would commute by bike if safe facilities were available. I believe this is the type of message that Congress should be sending to our communities through the tax code: that we support efforts to reduce energy consumption, ease traffic congestion, and encourage healthy activities as part of our daily routines....