New group led by key GOP strategist forms to push PTC extension

Source: Hannah Northey and Nick Juliano, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012

The push to extend a key wind industry tax break maintains solid bipartisan support in Congress, and a new group launched this week wants to make sure it stays that way.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist and former spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Texas), is leading the new organization, which aims to reinforce the arguments of Republicans who support an extension of the wind production tax credit and to win more GOP lawmakers to the cause.

Feehery is the new executive director of the Red State Renewable Alliance, an ad hoc coalition of citizens and companies that wants the production tax credit for wind energy to be extended past its expiration date of Dec. 31.

The alliance currently has three members, but their names are not being released until more companies and individuals join, Feehery said.

“It’s kind of a ‘If you build it, they will come’ type of thing,” he said in an interview this morning.

The overarching goal of the group is to “win the intellectual argument” over whether the PTC is a policy worthy of Republican support, Feehery said. The group won’t lobby at first but plans to produce supportive op-ed pieces, host policy forums and engage on social media.

Companies like Exelon Corp. have joined fiscal conservative groups in urging an end to the credit, but Feehery said his group intends to demonstrate to Republicans who already are on board with a PTC extension as well as GOP lawmakers who remain undecided that it can be a winning political issue.

Feehery also noted on the group’s website that GOP congressional districts host 75 percent of the country’s wind capacity and 67 percent of the industry’s manufacturing base.

For example, in Iowa, the state’s entire congressional delegation was on board with extending the credit, including Republican Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham, both of whom were re-elected this month.

“They won and Mitt Romney, who came out against it, lost. So there’s a lesson to learn here that this kind of policy is popular with voters,” Feehery said.

He also noted that Republicans should better understand the distinction between good policies like the PTC, which provides support based on electricity produced and has been credited with creating U.S. manufacturing jobs, and those that pick “winners and losers” among particular companies or technologies. Critics of the PTC often lump it together with other Obama administration programs that have not been as successful, such as the Department of Energy loan guarantee to solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

“Solyndra is bad, but the wind PTC was around far before Obama and has been a bipartisan program,” Feehrey said. “You have to make the distinction, and not everything should be tarred with the Solyndra brush.”

Feehery is currently president of the lobbying and communications firm Quinn Gillespie Communications in Washington, D.C. He is also the director of the lobbying firm QGA Government Affairs. He also served as president of the Feehery Group, a strategic advocacy firm, and has been a frequent political commentator and blogger.

Feehery served as a spokesman for Hastert and worked as a government relations advocate for the government relations and communication firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers before heading to Capitol Hill. He served as DeLay’s communication director from 1995 to 1998 and as the whip office’s chief floor assistant. He started his career as a speechwriter to former U.S. House Republican Leader Bob Michel.

For now, the credit’s immediate fate is wrapped up in broader negotiations over larger tax and spending issues and whether the Obama administration and Congress can reach a deal on extending tax cuts implemented in 2001 and 2003. Lawmakers and lobbyists have said the wind industry’s tax credits could be included in a package if an agreement is reached (E&E Daily, Nov. 16).

Members of Congress are also looking to the industry for direction. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), who has been spearheading the House review of tax extenders, called on the wind industry this week to come to a consensus on what kind of a tax incentive phaseout is reasonable. The American Wind Energy Association has not yet floated a proposal but is instead focused on an immediate one-year extension of the incentive to save jobs.

Ellen Carey, a spokeswoman for AWEA, said she wasn’t surprised by the group’s launch and said extending the PTC has extensive bipartisan support. Wind production provides farmers with a new line of revenue and creates manufacturing jobs across the country.

Rob Walther, a senior policy adviser with Third Way, said the alliance is a welcome addition to a growing push to extend the tax credits.

“A group that exclusively tells the story about renewables in Republican-leaning states and how they have benefited those economies provides an added and welcome perspective that may have been overlooked by Republican lawmakers,” he said.